The Unanswered Question at #SPJAirplay’s #GamerGate Panel

Like many other gamers, I was watching the Airplay panel on #GamerGate at the SPJ convention in Miami, FL yesterday. While you’re sure to see articles about the event and the debate, as well as the results of a bomb threat forcing the venue and surrounding neighborhood to evacuate, I wanted to talk about what wasn’t actually discussed as a result of that evacuation.

The moderator, Michael Koretzky, wanted the afternoon panel to discuss how journalists should approach hashtag groups in the future, not specific to #GamerGate, and was adamant about not bringing up past mistakes and past issues. He repeatedly stated he, and the journalistic ethics representatives Lynn Walsh & Ren LaForme, weren’t originally there and didn’t know who did what in the past and thus wanted to hear nothing of it. Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopooulos questioned how to advise what to do going forward if past mistakes couldn’t be cited.

I don’t think it’s difficult, but it is best approached by redefining Koretzky’s question, which is what I wanted to do here, as well as answer it using the broad beginnings of GamerGate as the example:

If GamerGate had only started within the past week, how do gamers feel journalists should approach the situation to present a fair story?

My answer:

Examine what’s happened to start. Assuming we’re in the first week of stirrings, there’s been a post from a jilted lover claiming their ex, a game developer, was emotionally and psychologically abusive as well as involved in repeated infidelities within their relationship. One name specifically mentioned is a game journalist, though no accusations of conflict of interest or quid pro quo relationship has been mentioned in this post. Nonetheless, conversation has started in community forums and social media regarding perceived conflicts of interest and moderators have responded with very heavy hands to silence any discussion of the accusations to any degree.

If your publication is involved with anyone named in the post, the first and immediate thing to do is to talk to those named and understand specifics. Was there any positive coverage or mention of this person in your work and what was your relationship at the time? Is there any actual or potentially perceived conflict of interest? If so, update the articles with disclosures immediately and place those updates prominently at the top of the article.

Second, release a statement acknowledging the accusations and informing your readers that not only is that specific incident being evaluated, but your group is evaluating their ethics policies regarding conflicts of interests and disclosures as a whole. Update this if necessary, expanding to other topics that may have grown since its last revision, such as the arrival of platforms like Kickstarter or Patreon.

Third, if your site hosts forums, allow for discussion under heavy, but reasonable, moderation. Personal attacks, release of private information, or unhealthy comments are not acceptable, but in silencing all questions or discussion, moderators only add to the perception that there’s something more going on. Moderators should have a responsibility to help guide discussion in the right direction. In the case of the post that sparked GamerGate, the discussion should have been directed not at the game developer, but at the journalist, the publication(s), their policies, and if those policies lacked in ways that would allow, or already had allowed, other misconduct.

If you’re just a journalist wanting to cover a story about an online hashtag and weren’t involved in the situation to begin with, Milo said “just do the work.” Simple, yet also complicated in a leaderless, largely anonymous, online group. As a group of people only united by a hashtag to say “I agree there’s an issue here,” the question of who to talk to is obvious, but I don’t believe it can’t be answered.

So what would a journalist need to do? Again, we’re assuming the controversy is in its infancy here.

  1. Follow the hashtag for a day or two and identify two things.
    1. Who is well spoken and commenting on it favorably?
    2. Who is well spoken and commenting on it unfavorably?
  2. Contact a number of these people and ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. As discussed at AirPlay, explain the difference between complete online anonymity vs journalistic anonymity where their full real name won’t be used in the article, but the journalist and their editor need to know who they are. I believe people will be willing to talk.
  3. Listen to both sides, take their statements and comments, then follow up on those by verifying them as much as possible. Find chat logs or online records such as Twitter history, archived pages, etc. to support claims. Basically, “trust, but verify.”
  4. Present both sides of the story. With GamerGate, it would have been: detail why one side believes the outrage is an attack against an indie dev for being a woman developing non-traditional games and the other side believes there is justifiable concern over impropriety and conflicts of interest in the publications they rely on to give them information on where to spend their money.
  5. COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I honestly believe in its infancy, it was this simple. Now, a year later, there may be more nuance and complications, but I wouldn’t change much. The only main addition I would advise journalists today, as the 1 year anniversary approaches, would be slight alterations/additions:

  1. Follow the hashtag and see which prominent online figures are cited. If the opposition to a position is citing someone as a prominent figure, it’s worth contacting that figure whether they are legitimately involved or not.
  2. Lurk on forums like Reddit and see where the users are listening for information, then talk to that source. Again, this may largely be YouTube channels.
  3. Contact people for interviews, as before.
  4. Be prepared to do multiple stories on the topic. There will be plenty of material.
  5. Again, COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I emphasize number 6 because I think it’s crucial to covering online groups associated with one another only through social media hashtags. With enough interviews, though, I think it is possible to identify common themes and present both sides of a story, even with sources who can be paranoid about their anonymity.

So basically, that’s what I think should be done not specifically to cover #GamerGate, but to start laying the groundwork for future stories with hashtag groups, which will likely only grow as our reliance on social media to communicate continues as well. This is simply my opinion based on nothing more than my thoughts. I don’t have experience in journalism beyond a single community college class years ago and don’t claim to be an expert, but I think it’s something that will grow more important in the years to come.

To paraphrase Oliver Campbell, journalism is essentially about communication. The people aren’t going to tell journalists how to do their jobs, but journalists are going to have to adapt to evolving methods of communication among people to pursue their stories.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – More of the Same? That’s Okay!

This week, Ubisoft officially announced the next Assassin’s Creed game would be titled Syndicate and confirmed it would take place in Victorian era London. As has become standard for the Internet, responses ranged from eager anticipation to bemoaning a release of yet another Assassin’s Creed game that is essentially the same game repackaged with a new coat of paint.

The first Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007 and in the past 8 years, there have been 9 entries in the main series with an additional thirteen side games, as well as comics, graphic novels, a short film, animated shorts, and soon a full length feature film starring Michael Fassbender. It’s hard to argue that’s not a lot of games in 8 years. It is.

Focusing on the main series, 9 entries is essentially a new entry in the main series every year with a little short of here and there to squeeze an extra in that cycle time. This has led to some gamers seeing Assassin’s Creed as old, dull, boring, or a cheap rehash of the same game with nothing new. Some would prefer more creativity and true innovation in each sequel with longer cycle times while others are happy to play the games as they are each year.

Unity Cover

With the exception of when they’re released buggy as all get out.

Essentially, Assassin’s Creed has become Ubisoft’s Call of Duty, a franchise that uses the same engine and same gameplay with each installment allowing for short cycle times and fast turn around getting the product out. Personally, I’ve played every installment except for Rogue and have yet to play Unity. I own it, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I actually acknowledge it’s the same game each time with a new location, but I’m actually okay with that. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon in the game world either.

Mega Man Bosses

8 games in 9 years with only two missing an annual release.

The question, though, is whether or not this rehashing with a few new bells and whistles is acceptable or not. Personally, I’d argue it is.

Assassin’s Creed is Ubisoft’s tentpole movie if they were a Hollywood film studio. Paramount Pictures has a proven track record that year after year they will make millions of dollars on sTransformer, though I’d actually take any Assassin’s Creed plot over Transformers films myself. Essentially, Ubisoft knows they’ll make money with each installment with minimal development time and minimal investment. It’s a low risk, high return on investment game.

Some will feel that’s bad from a perspective of the art and craftsmanship of a team making the games, but I again point to Hollywood. Not every movie, nor every game, needs to be a critically acclaimed artistic achievement. Some are summer blockbusters you enjoy with popcorn, talk about for the weekend, and maybe watch again later on DVD, Bluray, or Netflix. Maybe you make your child watch/play through it one day.

The reason I compare it to the Hollywood tentpole movies is that it serves a similar purpose. It keeps revenue coming in and allows Ubisoft to continue to operate and take chances with other games. For every wildly profitable Assassin’s Creed they publish, they can take chances on smaller games and new IPs like Watch_Dogs, Child of Light, or Valiant Hearts The Great War plus games like South Park The Stick of Truth. Ubisoft isn’t a one trick pony milking their only cash cow. They’ve made a lot of games. 76, to be precise, of varying types just between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II, for example.

If the profits weren’t rolling in from the blockbuster title each year, would we have gotten Child of Light or Valiant Hearts at all? Valiant Hearts was already a labor of love that almost didn’t get the okay to be made. And while, yes, Ubisoft doesn’t make award winning game after award winning game, it’s still good for them to be doing some exploration with other ideas and genres. Plus Watch_Dogs likely wouldn’t have been made at all if it weren’t for Assassin’s Creed’s success. That game had its share of complaints as well, but I wager the second is going to be a huge improvement much like the leap from Assassin’s Creed to its first sequel and may give Ubisoft two flagship games to generate revenue and allow for more experimentation with other games as well.

So whether you’re like me and love some stabbin’ each year or you’re tired of Assassin’s Creed entirely, I think it’s worth remembering that so long as the games are bringing in a profit, it’s quite likely that we all could benefit from it allowing Ubisoft to bring other games forward in the future.

Never Alone

A tale of a girl and a fox

I’ve been meaning to play Never Alone for a while now. I had it saved on Steam, and I’m not a Steam user, nor am I a PC Gamer, to be honest. It interested me, though, to have a game that’s intended to present a story of a native Iñupiaq people and bring a little bit of their culture to a larger world. With it being on sale, I picked it up on PS4 this past weekend. My regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about diversity in video games. In my opinion, games like Never Alone are an example of how games can grow and expand into new areas to share experiences with people across cultures. I’d describe the game as a fairly simple platform puzzle game that focuses more on sharing with the player than challenging them. It was a short, enjoyable game, that can be played alone by swapping between the arctic fox and the girl or co-op with each player controlling one or the other.

Graphics
I really enjoyed the gameplay graphics. There was a nice blend of slick modern capability with stylization of some characters such as the Owlman or the Manslayer while Nuna and her arctic fox have an almost Pixar quality to them.

While often simple, the backgrounds are quite smooth and a pleasure to look at. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear.

Upper One Games did a good job with the view of the screen as well. There’s a slight blur around the edges and corners at times, setting a mood of looking through the blizzard that Nuna and the fox are braving in their adventure.

Between levels, the story is told using cut scenes employing an artistic style drawn from traditional scrimshaw. Some won’t care for this, but I particularly liked it.

Controls
The controls can be a bit frustrating, particularly with the bola, but otherwise I didn’t have much trouble with the game. Jumping was responsive and I only found myself moving wrong when I got impatient. Honestly, impatience is your biggest enemy in this game. There are only certain times that urgency is needed and something is chasing you. Most of my deaths were caused by me trying to rush and not waiting to observe the patterns of spirits or the movements of ice. Much like the lessons taught to children in Alaska, ignoring the natural world around you can have dire consequences. Slow down, observe, and then act appropriately and you will avoid a lot of frustrations during your adventure through a blizzard in Alaska.

Music
I can’t say too much about the soundtrack for Never Alone. It was pleasant enough, but not memorable or striking to me. I would have enjoyed if Upper One Games had incorporated more traditional music into it and explored that more. There is a video on the importance of the drum in the culture, but not too much.

I will note, though, that I found the yaps and grumbles of the fox quite adorable.

Difficulty
The game isn’t hard, really. If you die, you start pretty much right where you went wrong and can try again infinitely until you finish. There aren’t many enemies and you only have to defeat one while the others are about finding ways out of the predicament you find yourself in. The game isn’t long either, taking only about 3 hours to complete with all extra items found, which open videos about the Iñupiaq.

Conclusion
The lack of challenge isn’t a detriment in this case; not for me, at least. Never Alone is more about telling a story and giving you insight into the culture and history of an entire people. In that respect, it’s a fine game. I enjoyed the puzzles, particularly where you had to scramble up walls and leap off of them as the fox in order to open a path for the girl, Nuna. However, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and any gameplay was largely driven by an interest to hear the entire tale.

There is even a moment where something happens that sort of made my heart sink. When a simple 3-hour game with a little narrative and no real dialog from the protagonist can have an emotional effect, even if only a slight one, I would say that’s a success. Then again, I may also be a big softie at this point.

Narrated in the Iñupiaq language with English subtitles, there was a certain feel of authenticity (it should, they worked with members of the Iñupiaq, one of whom narrates) and interweaving the videos into the game added some depth to it. Hearing actual stories from native Alaskans about their grandfather’s pet arctic fox or a brother’s pet polar bear were really interesting. I recommend watching the videos as you find them during the playthrough rather than waiting until you’re done.

Never Alone, or, Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (“I am not alone”), is a video game telling a story in an interactive method of traditional Iñupiaq storytelling. As players learn, these stories were often told to teach lessons to children about the world and about their people’s history and culture. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Never Alone as well. Video games can help us view other cultures and their stories as well, and even better understand their history. If one is to play the game and take their time, one may also learn a lesson of patience and enjoying some simplicity, even in a video game amidst our current level of graphics and AAA titles.

I look forward to more games similar to Never Alone from Upper One Games and if they were able to make an ongoing career from short games like this that let us look at other cultures and stories from around the world, I think I’d be willing to play every one of them.

If you have the chance and can get this at a price that seems reasonable, I do recommend giving it a try.

Then again, considering the name of the site, I may also have a soft spot for games featuring foxes.

Sonic Runners Trailer Debuts

In the words of Bender B. Rodriguez, “I’m back, baby!”

It’s been a while since I wrote an entry. Life happens, Holidays come along, you change jobs, and then your PC dies. Really, though, you guys don’t care about my sob story and excuses, so I’m going to just get right back to writing about video games and geekery.

We recently learned that Sega is going to be focusing more on mobile games going forward and this week they presented the trailer for the new Sonic game, coming to iOS and Android mobile devices.  Let’s watch, shall we?

I’ve seen a lot of people saying “RIP Sonic” and that this is the end of the Sega we knew from the days of Genesis and Dreamcast. I’m not so sure. Honestly, this might be the best thing for Sonic.

A Rich History

Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared in the self-titled game on Sega Genesis, which was followed with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic and Knuckles. There were a few other titles, like Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic Spinball, but for “core” continuity games, Sonic 1-3 plus the Knuckles add-on are the main ones from the golden days. Some feel the Game Gear versions of Sonic and Sonic 2 are even better than the Genesis versions, though.

The games were notable for their gorgeous graphics at the time and many, including myself, feel the music was outstanding for its time. Seriously, listen to this.

Personally, Sonic 2 is still my favorite of them, both in game and in music.

Things Turn Sour

Sadly, Sonic has not transitioned well as games have moved forward into more three-dimensional offerings. The first such adventure, aptly named Sonic Adventure, on Sega Dreamcast was a pretty solid and most seemed to agree Sonic Adventure 2 was a good game. I think some disagree on which of the two was the better one.

But after that, Sonic never seemed to find his footing. The switch to a behind the back third-person view seemed to limit the blue blur from the dizzying speeds he was previously known for. Even the first Adventure game has some criticism for slowing things down with other characters, particularly Big the Cat and Froggy. I’ll admit there’s something quirky about that game and its setting. I realize Eggman is human, therefore other humans would logically exist on the planet, but it seemed odd having Sonic and his pals being the only non-humans. I never understood why Sega didn’t leverage their apparent partnership to utilize the world of Mobius from Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog series (which also shared the setting with the outstanding Saturday AM cartoon). Utilizing Sally, Bunnie, Antoine, and Rotor would have been a far better use of characters and setting if playstyles were going to be slowed down when not playing Sonic.

But I digress. The point is, Sonic hasn’t sold well in 3D situations. The most recent installments, Sonic Colors, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, and most recently Sonic Boom have all had negative to lackluster response with Sonic Generations faring slightly better.

Mobile Future for a Mobile Hedgehog

And that brings us to the announcement of Sonic Runners and the trailer at the top here. Honestly, I think it might be good. The mobile platform encourages more simplistic gaming and fundamentally almost requires a return to the Sonic roots on Genesis and Game Gear. It’s possible that having Sonic step away from the modern generation of game consoles or PC gaming gives him a chance to show off his strengths. Rather than competing with gameplay and designs that simply don’t work for the blue streak of quilled lightning, a 2D side scroller seems a better fit. The only alternative I can think of that would allow Sonic’s strong suits would be focusing on handheld options for Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.

Or perhaps Sega should even consider offering him up to an Indie Dev. I’ve heard good things about the fan games Sonic: Before the Sequel and Sonic: After the Sequel.

How Resident Evil’s Horror Could Survive

Capcom has been going in new directions with Resident Evil for a while now with mixed results.  After being one of the most well known series in the survival horror genre with Resident Evil 1-3 and Code Veronica, Resident Evil was always an anticipated release when a new installment was announced.  The Resident Evil REmake and Resident Evil 0 were well received on GameCube and a Resident Evil 2 REmake is one of the most fan requested games out there.

But with Resident Evil 4, Capcom switched to over the shoulder gameplay rather than the old clunky “tank control” scheme, yet 4 was still highly praised despite getting away from Umbrella Corporation’s T-Virus.  That warm reception wasn’t waiting for Resident Evil 5, which followed Chris Redfield and his new partner Shiva in Africa where the T-Virus’s origins were first discovered and Umbrella as fans came to know it was born (which las plagas from Resident Evil 4 still factored in).  Resident Evil 5 split fans as the game seemed to get further away from its survival horror roots and go more towards an action game.  Resident Evil 6 had fans hopeful with the apparent return to a city devastated by a new outbreak similar to Raccoon City, but while the game started with more familiar elements of survival horror, it started showing signs of action. When the game picks up with Chris Redfield, it’s more of that action game style with giants stomping through cities and battles of 2 men against tanks.  The final chapter takes it even further with motorcyles outrunning tanks and jumping over helicopters and a plane crashing into a city before a fresh outbreak of a new virus.

Resident Evil has been going bigger and bigger like a Hollywood action film. Explosions are more frequent than tense jump scares as Capcom has sought to pursue a more broad audience.  Left in its wake are the faithful fans who still long for survival horror like Resident Evil was built upon.

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is supposed to be a return to survival horror while still using the over the shoulder model and hopefully Capcom gets it right.  We’ll see how that pans out in February 2015, but in the meantime, here are a few things that I think Capcom should do with the series to get it back on track.

1. Start over but continue forward
Fans are familiar with the established characters of Resident Evil.  Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, and Albert Whesker are the familiar faces the series follows, but that may also be detrimental at this point as well.  These characters are likewise familiar with these events. While they tried to give Chris some PTSD elements, he’s overall able to push through and Leon has become so hardened to bioweapons he’s pretty much a specialist specifically for such operations.

For that reason, I think it’s time to get away from bioweapons being common and time for the old cast to step aside for new characters.  For Resident Evil 7, I would set the game about 5-10 years after Resident Evil 6.  After the incident in China, almost all nations around the globe unified to outlaw the research on bioweapons and aggressively hunted down any cells still continuing work from the days of Umbrella (and Neo-Umbrella was just a ridiculous name).  Essentially start the game in a world where the events of Resident Evil 1-6 are a dark mark in human history but no indication of such things have been seen for years now.

Set the game anywhere you like, though I would likely pick a more remote country – perhaps somewhere in South America. Perhaps an Interpol task force or a drug taskforce infiltrate a compound on information of a major drug production operation.  During the infiltration, something goes wrong and only a handful make it into the facility (yes, mirroring the set up of the original Resident Evil).  As they begin to investigate the facility, they find out a group has been doing research from the ground up based off Umbrella’s T-Virus and have successfully recreated it.  Thus we are thrown back into a game where the protagonist is just as terrified as the player is when creatures start coming at them rather than cool and collected and the player is dealing with claustrophobic corridors, zombie workers, undead dogs, spiders, rats, or whatever creatures you like, and a few mutants as well.  Perhaps you can even bring back a new version of Tyrant if you really wanted.

The key point is to get back to basics of the plot and have this scenario be completely new to the characters in the story so they have reason to be terrified.  Sure, people would have still heard of these things, but even 5 years after the China incident, a 25 year old operative would have been in college and possibly less than concerned with such events.  It yields itself for fear from the characters and if done well, that fear will be passed on to the player as the new research can be completely unknown and with enough variations the game can keep players unsure of what to expect.

2. Over the shoulder, under pressure

The over the shoulder perspective worked well in Resident Evil 4 and has worked well ever since on its own.  Slow moving zombies are easy to get headshots on when you’re able to aim reliably.  But 6 headshots only kills 6 zombies if there’s a dozen shambling towards you and your 6 shooter is slow to reload or worse, you only have 20 bullets to your name and have no clue what’s in the next hallway.

That’s a bit key to survival horror in my opinion.  Limited resources and inventory management.  In a game like Resident Evil 4-6 where you’re moving forward, I understand the need to suspend disbelief and have magical storage units that hold items, but having a dozen guns on your person is a bit much.  Bring back the limited inventory and the storage chests with their own limited inventory.  If the facility we’re in is designed so it makes sense, don’t even have the storage units share inventory and make players have to go back to retrieve what they stashed.

That sense of “did I bring the right weapon and do I have enough ammo” helps build tension as you open one more door or go down one more dark set of stairs.  In Resident Evil 6, having “enough” ammo was okay because you’d be able to blast through the zombies or monsters and collect more ammo from their body to keep blasting away.  In the old Resident Evil games, realizing you were at max capacity on two weapons and just found three more boxes of bullets actually instilled a bit of fear because “Why are they giving me this much ammo? Oh no, what’s about to come after me?!”

3. Bruce Lee doesn’t train zombie defense
This one is a problem we brought upon ourselves.  In the old tank control Resident Evil games, we were always grumbly about having to wildly swing a knife when we were low on ammo.  Why couldn’t we side kick a zombie in the chest? Why couldn’t we have any form of hand to hand combat?

Well, we eventually got it and it honestly made the games trivial enough that survival wasn’t a big deal.  Even without the abundance of zombies dropping ammo, you could conserve a lot by taking two shots and then giving a round house to splatter a zombies head, or deliver a running bulldog worthy of Rick Steiner from WWE.  If you can take out monsters without guns, why worry?

Having this be a new recruit on the team would make the idea of going hand to hand against creatures willing to bite your face off a bit outlandish.  And if they’ve only gone through basic hand to hand, they aren’t in a position to reliably fight off these creatures anyway, giving a reasonable excuse for removing the feature and putting us back to relying on our ever diminished ammunition and somewhat unreliable knife, or maybe a collapsible baton this time. Just cuz…

4. We can still acknowledge our favorite characters

Just because a new character is green behind the ears and about ready to soil himself over this horror he’s stumbled into doesn’t mean we can’t give him some reassurance now and then.  After managing to find a radio, you could get word out reporting what you’ve found.  Later on, your next opportunity to try and make radio contact could be none other than Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine, or any other of the familiar characters. While not on site with you, they could offer some insight and advice to the new character, encouraging him to keep it together and make it through this alive while they marshal resources to get there.

5. And don’t go straight into the same problem again

At the end of the game, why not have the problem unresolved and even escalating?  Why not have the protagonist stop the researchers at the facility in this game only to radio into HQ at the end to tell them he’s found there are other facilities set up and something worse.  Our final scene could show that the virus has already somehow been spread to contaminate a nearby city.

And that easily sets you up to go right into Resident Evil 8 with an outbreak in a city just like Resident Evil 2.  And again like Resident Evil 2, why not go even worse than Leon’s predicament? Why not have a protagonist that isn’t part of any organization or organized force? Perhaps a retired police officer, or even just a random citizen trying to survive this.  You could have your new character from the previous game arrive and split the game between the two like the old games used to at times and you could again have our established characters remotely involved or arrive late.  For that matter, I’d have them running clean up and just a few steps behind to contain the situation before it gets out of hand so all their specialized skills and knowledge aren’t enough to prevent the horror from breaking out again.

I’d even consider it worth thinking about having each game take place with a new character who may come into contact with familiar characters, and only rarely have the game mostly focus on familiar characters arriving to work in a new location.

Conclusion:

I’ll admit some of this might come across as just re-visiting Resident Evil 1 and 2 with new characters and a new location, but I think that’s almost what Capcom should do at this point.  By going forward without a reboot, it lets fans of the series continue on while also introducing those old games’ style of survival horror elements to a generation that never played the old games.  A generation of gamers never played the Playstation entries and likely have no interest in doing so, which would make this a new experience for them while nostalgia would likely make these worthwhile, yet still different enough, to be interesting for old players.

Saturday Anime Review – Log Horizon & More

Alright, so it’s a day late, but I’m still keeping the title of Saturday Anime Review 😛

LOG HORIZON – THE OUTLAW AND MITHRIL EYES

The pain of waiting on Log Horizon to resume has subsided (now it’s just the week long wait between episodes) and so it’s a little easier to be objective instead of just plain giddy that the episode is simply on.  I’ve watched the first episode again to make sure I didn’t miss anything and I have to say there are a few weaknesses in there.  It feels like things move along a bit quickly, just throwing out mentions and expecting the audience to just go with it.  From my understanding the season isn’t quite following the light novels in terms of tone (the light novels having more mystery vibe that’s already somewhat given away in the first season).  That said, I suspect there may be some aspects that aren’t delved into to get things moving along.

What’s more jarring is the differences from season 1 and 2 with the change in the animation company.  Marielle and Demikas in particular look rather different from the previous season with the way their hair is drawn.  With lines missing to detail the strands of hair, it looks more like there’s a bit of a dread lock feel to them. Kanami’s new design is even more jarring.  I’m caught up on the background: how Kanami moved from Japan to Europe, contributing to the Tea Party’s dissolving, and created a new character on the European server (and her side story is apparently going to be presented this season as she’s making her way back to Japan from what I understand).  So it makes sense for her character to look different and I dig the Tifa vibe; heck, the comic I’m working on features a busty monk gal of my own, but the animators just went a bit overboard with her size to the point it looks awkwardly drawn.  And that’s saying something when anime fans disagree with an increase in bust size.  Hopefully the little we’ve seen of her isn’t just the first pass and she’ll be more reasonable as she’s featured.

There’s also a few scenes where the animation just seems less detailed somehow.  There are others where it looks fantastic and on par with season 1, but overall I’m not entirely sure I like the new studio.

We get introduced to a new character as well – Tetra, who doesn’t look like she belongs in Elder Tales with the outfit designs from season one.  The magical girl genre injected into the fantasy genre is rather out of place and her outfit doesn’t seem like what you’d see based on our experience so far.  But, if adventurers can wear pretty much a black tutu and a top hat in Eorzea, I can’t really complain about the diversity in outfits in Elder Tale!  At first I didn’t like her much, or at all, but the way she rode Naotsugu’s shoulder when she was tired and randomly popped up from inside his armor just to pop away again was pretty funny!  I’m hoping the two become something of a comic duo with Tetra being a pest that aggravates Naotsugu.

Speaking of Naotsugu, I really liked seeing the developments with Marielle.  I rather liked how Naotsugu had scenes showing small signs of affection towards her in the first season rather than being blatant. The “open pervert” being afraid of her forwardness when they first meet, then later bringing her food, and when she’s exhausted just sitting nearby and waving the fan for her was a nice development.  In the time since the first season, that’s apparently grown more as the two are talking via telepathy on a daily basis while Naotsugu is on his secret mission with Shiroe.

As for the main story, it’s still true Log Horizon style with slow development. We’re building towards a full scale raid, which we saw a glimpse of in the first episode.  We’ve also had a final scene suggesting Shiroe dies at some point, experiencing his first death (as does Akaktsuki apparently).  I’m expecting this is going to be a fairly big deal based on what William Massachusetts told Shiroe.  When you die, you experience the weight of your failure and after experiencing that repeatedly, a lot of players couldn’t face it anymore. Combine that with the loss of memories of the real world, and death may have more weight than they’ve believed.

Either way, since Shiroe and Akaktsuki apparently die and meet prior to their respawn at the Cathedral (some assumptions there) on Christmas Eve, I expect we’ll see this raid story arc resolved by end of this year, about 14 episodes into the season.  Kanami’s story will be mixed in there some, I think, so we’ll see what the second half of the season holds!

SWORD ART ONLINE – DEBRIEF

If you’ve been keeping up with Sword Art Online II but didn’t catch episode 14.5 yet…don’t bother. It’s completely a recap episode. I got irritated and fast forwarded towards the end to see if at least something was added on the end, but nnnnope.

That’s two disappointments with SAO this season.  The last episode was somewhat annoying pulling the threat of sexual assault at the end, which felt awkward and out of place.  I really felt like the episode should have culminated in a heavier focus on Kyoji wanting to kill Shino and respawn with her in “the next world” to be together.  It would have been a much better emphasis on his psychosis and break with reality.  It would have been moreso if they Kyoji had more clearly a member of Laughing Skull himself and, after the SAO incident, desired to live in a world like that again with the real world being boring after the excitement of a life of adventure and combat.

Ah well, we’ll see how things go from here.

WELCOME TO THE NHK

This is one I’ve heard about repeatedly as being a top notch anime worth watching and I just have never gotten around to watching it.  It’s been in my queue for a long time, but I finally got to starting it.

Based on the description and the little I’d heard, the first eight episodes are not at all what I expected.  Conspiracies aren’t a factor (yet) at all.  I’ll do a full review of the series when I finish it, but I have to ask….how does one become a NEET?  Anytime they’re brought up in anime, the focus is that they don’t have a job, and aren’t in school or training, yet they seem to still be able to pay rent and splurge on manga, trips, video games, or whatever they want.  No work, but still able to spend at will?  Yes, please.

10/4/14 Saturday Anime – Log Horizon

The first episode of the new season of Log Horizon aired today. Huzzah!  I’ve probably watched the first season of this show half a dozen times now and have been greatly looking forward to the new season to start.  I have a rather fond affection for the fantasy genre in books, film, and anime, which sadly is somewhat lacking in the last category in my opinion.  I was introduced to anime by the Sci-Fi channel when it was still known as Japanimation by us silly Americans, one of those titles being Record of Lodoss War.

I spent all day today watching the first season for that sixth(ish) time and watched the new episode twice to make sure I caught everything.  I learned there’s a lot I’m still catching for the first time in the first season, though I will say here I haven’t read the light novels (yet!).  I had missed the comment that the song played at the ball with Eastal was the title screen theme of the Elder Tales game.  I realized one time through that the Man With a Mission band members appear in the crowd when Rayneshia (Lenessia) is giving her speech.  Speaking of that speech, I still get goosebumps after she speaks and that silence is broken by the adventurers pounding their weapons and a group blows their war horns.  The speech itself and that scene is masterfully crafted.

Log Horizon is a fantastic entry into the growing “trapped in an MMO” genre.  I’m not going to delve into the comparisons many make with another current anime, nor with older ones (admittedly, I’ve not watched those older ones), but at the moment, Log Horizon is my favorite of them, primarily because of the detail that’s been put into building the world of the MMO Elder Tale rather than just the world of the anime once the game becomes reality.  Tying in game mechanics into lore is a nice touch – one that most actual MMOs don’t do.  The explanations of how the monster tribes came to be, where adventurers came from, how resurrection works as a concept rather than game mechanic, and even where enemies get gold from are nice touches.  On top of that, there’s the well details interdependence of classes that’s rather well designed (if perhaps not perfectly balanced for actual gameplay…we’ll leave that to game designers).

The next aspect Log Horizon explored that really drew me into this world was then the exploration of it as a new reality.  Gender swapping and player bodies feeling odd due to differences from normal bodies were touched on in the first season, though I think enough men play females in MMOs that there’s a lot that could be explored there for a series at some point.  The fact that players resorted to PKing not out of sadistic tendencies or malice so much as just boredom was a nice touch as well, as “just something to do” is a real driving motivation for many players in MMOs. They just find things to do “for the lulz” after all.  The discovery of how to make food that tastes good (though I have a hard time believing nobody else would have figured that out in all of Akihabara’s territory, but I let it slide), the use of game mechanics in a new world to establish a method of enforcing law and order, and the use of telepathic conferencing were nice touches.  The big thing I liked about the development of the new world they’re living in was that they actually did approach economy as a driving factor to everything.  Shiro needed money to enact his plan to enforce law, supply and demand drove higher costs of the Crescent Moon Refreshment Stand, new discoveries that weren’t in the game led to new demand, which led to demand for supplies, which led to work for adventurers.  It was nicely put together, I thought.

Finally, what I particularly appreciate is that Shiro, nor the others, are truly perfect characters that can handle everything alone.  Each supporting cast member has their own strengths and while Shiro is the main character and sometimes given a lot of lip service from others, in action all of the players have been shown to be quite strong in their own right.  I give a lot of respect Mamare Touno for making a support class character the main protagonist and I have really enjoyed seeing the story from the perspective of the strategist.  I find it quite fitting that a strategist would be nicknamed “villain in glasses” considering the strategist’s job will often require some choices that seem cruel, but are done to move pieces into a better position for the endgame.  While Shiro excels in planning and putting together the grand schemes, and has some convenient items at his disposal such as the gryphon whistle and appearance changing potion (to be fair, I’d have one to offer if this happened to me with FFXIV…I haven’t used mine), it’s believable things that a multi-year veteran of the MMO would have.

While Shiro is the protagonist and strategist, though, I think it’s safe to say he wouldn’t succeed without Naotsugu and Akatasuki.  For that matter, they may not have saved Serara without Nyanta’s presence, and they certainly wouldn’t have succeeded in saving the low level players, including Tohya and Minori, without the Crescent Moon guild’s work allying with Radio Market, Marine Agency, and Shopping Street 8.  And even still, Crusty is named as one of a handful of players who has commanded 100 players simultaneously, a feat that Shiro likely couldn’t do even if he could plan a strategy for the battle.  Plus, for all the praise Shiro is given, a level 20-ish Minori is already following in his footsteps as a strategist.

The first episode of the new season starts off with a quick glimpse at some characters in new armor, probably a look at fights we’ll catch up to later similar to how season 1 started.  We first see the leader of Silver Sword who we haven’t seen since he pulled out of the Round Table council.  We also see a few characters we don’t know, one of which is Kanami, former leader of the Debauchery Tea Party, who I’ve read was a swashbuckler in the flash backs we saw in season 1 though she dressed as a monk. With a new character on the new server after moving in real life, she’s not actually playing a monk. Despite me being a total boob guy (Naotsugu would be proud of me being an open pervert, right?), her appearance here was really over the top.  She’s bigger than her flash back appearances from season 1 and I’m hoping they tone her down a bit.  I’m also a bit grumpy she seems a lot like my own character for the comic/book I’ve been working on.  Dang world stealing my ideas…I really do need a tinfoil hat!

After that prologue scene, we get the new opening animation.  I’ve seen comments on Crunchy Roll and have to agree with them; it was the right call to keep Database as the opening theme.  The new animation, though?  Wow, that’s a lot of new characters.  I counted over 25 new faces I didn’t recognize (though I’ve read enough to recognize Kanami, as mentioned, and her TMNT-inspired companion Leonardo).

The first episode, and thus the new season, starts off fairly appropriately with a conflict to overcome that revolves solely around money and economy.  The Round Table has purchased not only the Guild Building in season one, but since added the Cathedral and the Trade Building as well as “several other facilities.”  Well, it actually starts off with a post-Halloween festival (good timing there on the release) and appropriately enough for this time of year…PUMPKINS PUMPKINS PUMPKINS! Gourds aside, though, we catch up with our established characters, many of whom are wearing different clothes.  Normally I don’t care for changes in character design, but I like that the changes and additions appear to be warmer clothing, fitting with the fact that it’s Autumn and October in the world.

But back to the main conflict.  Some spoilers ahead from this point onward.  You have been warned.

Seriously, heed the warning if you don’t like spoilers.  😛

The Round Table needs 10 million gold per month to keep up with everything they own now.  They’ve tried reaching out to the clan that runs the world’s banking system, but it’s revealed there’s no loan system in the world and no subclass for it either.  Shiroe has a plan, though, and leaves Akihabara with Naotsugu to meet with a representative of the Kunie Clan, the one that runs the banking system, in a cabin in the snowy mountains near their village, which he determined with the help of Regan, the Sage of Mirror Lake.  Shiro’s plan is to access a fountain of gold that lore claims is how gold is distributed to souls upon their reincarnation (in other words, the lore-explanation for why respawned monsters drop gold for players).  They’re told they’ll need a large group of companions to meet and the Kunie Clan’s decision to help will depend on how they meet the challenge ahead.  Rather cryptic just what exactly said Clan will offer and what exactly the representatives words mean.

All in all, the episode wasn’t action packed, but definitely set the stage to get things moving.  Log Horizon’s strengths is its ebb and tide with the story.  It builds up to a crescendo, then comes back down to prepare for another build up, so I’m not worried about a boring season by any means. The intro and what we’ve gleaned of Shiro’s plan, though, does raise questions for me.  If they were to succeed and get the 80 trillion gold they need (I’m guessing Shiro is calculating to have enough to cover the Round Table expenses for a length of time), what impact would that have on the world?  If they plunder the device that puts gold on monsters, will the device still function, and if it doesn’t, won’t that mean greater economic strife for all adventurers, and even all regions of the Japan, if not the world?  Could the master strategist’s plan actually do more harm than good this time?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch the next 23 (probably less for this first conflict to be resolved) episodes to find out. Or we could start reading the light novels.  I should get on that, but I still need about 6 million gil for our FC House in Final Fantasy XIV.

So until next week, I guess I’m living in the database….

Just say “whoa whoa whoa whoa.”

Retro Games MEGA FIND trickling to eBay

It’s a story that makes any retro game collector a little jealous.  Multimedia personality Patrick Scott Patterson, through just amazing luck this time, came into possession of over 600 video game boxes that were stored carefully and remain in pristine condition.

Patrick Scott Patterson, or the Original PSP, was contacted by a friend who came across multiple comic book long boxes filled with video game boxes from Atari 2600 and before sitting on the curb for the trash collectors!  The full collection was sent to PSP, who went to “work” (I imagine it was more “went to giddy fun” myself) sorting through them and seeing what all was there.  All in all, 616 boxes were present, with some being rather rare.

Patterson has long been a vocal proponent of video games, video game history, and video game preservation through the years and has often defended attacks on video games from the media critics, appearing on news segments in support of games and calling for rational discussion and realistic debate any time the media tries to scapegoat the hobby for the latest tragedy.  After much deliberation, he decided to put the mega find on eBay piece by piece in hopes that the mint condition boxes will go to collectors who, like him, wish to preserve these gems of gaming history.

From the press release:

“Last thing I want to happen is for these to end up in the hands of resellers who will only treat them as inventory,” he added.  “Given the unique nature of the find I found that opinions on value vary, so it is going to be up to the public to determine them while giving all collectors a shot at what they need to complete their collections.”

You can read more about the story behind this amazing discovery of retro game history from the source itself here and if you want to get a box or two for your own collection, the eBay page can be found right here.

Final Fantasy XIV 2.38: The Great Land Grab

Final Fantasy XIV released Patch 2.38 this week to a bit of an uproar and backlash to some extent.  The big addition to the game was the introduction of personal housing which, to be honest, was not exactly what people were expecting.  To be fair, earlier this year, Yoshida did comment on player housing being much more affordable than Free Company Housing.  This, as it turns out, was not the case.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from personal housing, but I was looking forward to it.  The idea that it would be cheaper than Free Company housing made me think it would lack some of the functional features such as chocobo raising or gardening.  I expected it to primarily be a house you could decorate and have your own place to hang out, possibly with a summoning bell similar to the inn rooms.  But then Square put in the personal quarters in Free Company housing and that had most of the personal housing features I was expecting.  So what would player personal housing be?

As it turns out, Square chose to give players the option of owning their own private house completely identical to what Free Companies could buy and build with all the features and functionality.  Fairly interesting decision, but players were a bit confused that Square only added two new wards, a total of six new wards per server.  The small houses were sold out within hours, if that long, on many servers.  On our server, the most expensive plot in one ward has been purchased by an individual player for near 90 million gil.  The result was many players, and smaller Free Companies, left unable to purchase a house as things were scooped up fast. The combination of limited spaces and the reset to original plot prices resulted in limited accessibility.  A lot of players are unhappy.

Yoshida has already acknowledged the issue and has stated they are facing challenges with ensuring server stability as they continue to add wards, but they are making some strides and plan to double the number of wards with the 2.4 patch.  While the hope of getting a house with this patch may have resulted in dashed dreams, our group has seen it as an opportunity to continue to amass our gil in preparation for the plot we want, not just the plot we can grab.  If that means we spend more in another 15 days or get it at a lower price in 30 or even have to wait until 2.4, then so be it.

It’s actually a feature I’ve come to really like about Final Fantasy XIV: the lack of instant gratification.  It’s disappointing, but if you’re patient and keep working towards a goal, I feel like you will eventually get there.  For now, though, my friends and I continue to put our collective efforts into accumulating gil and making preparations for our future mansion.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – A Year in Review

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is celebrating its 1 year anniversary and it’s a year I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. Before we delve into my review of FF XIV’s first year, a little history on my MMO experience. My MMORPG “career” started in the 90s with EverQuest after a friend showed it to me. It was a mind blowing idea to be able to play a character in a living, breathing world, something I’d never seen in a game before. After a number of years in EverQuest, I finally hung up the armor and stepped away from Norrath, but not before I had pulled two new friends into the adventures. About a year after leaving EverQuest, these two friends, along with a new one, and I logged into Vana’diel together when Final Fantasy XI launched. I didn’t last long with that game. Two friends, who were roommates, were between jobs and leveled a good dozen levels without me. I found my warrior spending more time shouting for a group than actually playing the game. It didn’t take long for me to cancel.

Then came World of Warcraft. It took some time, but eventually the friends who joined me in EverQuest and Final Fantasy XI all started characters in Azeroth. For 9 years I played WoW and for most of that time one of the friends that came in with EverQuest played as well.  We made friends in WoW who we met in person and have become friends out of the game now as well.  This one friend that I pulled into Norrath, grouped with in Vana’diel, and adventured with for years in Azeroth convinced me that Eorzea was our next grand adventure.  I had pulled him into two worlds, EQ & WoW, and he had pulled me into one (FF XI), so I guess it was my turn to follow his lead.  And so on September 30, 2010 we had our Collector’s Edition in hand.

Things were already off to a bad start.  Final Fantasy XIV offered the worst collector’s edition I’ve ever purchased.  The only things it offered were some in-game items, a blank journal, an authenticator, and codes for adventurer’s certificates.  That was it.  No soundtrack, no art book, no mouse pad or physical items.  I’m sure everyone is rather aware of how poorly the game itself was received.  Combat was arguable (some did like it), zones were fairly uninteresting with reused assets and no change in scenery, but the biggest thing that grew so dull for me was the menus.  Menus, menus, and menus.  Final Fantasy XIV: Menu Screens would have been a fitting title.

Two years later and Square Enix knew the game was going to collapse.  It would go down as one of the most colossal failures in MMO history if not for the determination of Square Enix putting a team in place to turn the game around.  They kept things going for a while with FFXIV 1.0, a storyline building to a climax that may be the most epic conclusion to an MMO prior to an expansion.

The friend that convinced me to try XIV had continued to play off and on during the 1.0 wrap up between time in WoW.  He was again speaking highly of the plans for A Realm Reborn.  Considering I didn’t have to even buy the game and would even get some in game rewards simply for having the original Collector’s Edition, I decided to give it a fair shake.

Even if you don’t care for FFXIV: ARR, you have to admit it’s impressive how much Yoshida and his team have turned the game around.  The 16th best selling game of 2013 with over 2 million subscribers is no small feat after relaunching from what was named the worst MMO launch of all time.

When I first tried A Realm Reborn, my summary description was simple: “There’s nothing particularly new here, but it’s like the World of Warcraft of 2013.  It’s taken all the features that work well, polished them, and put them together in an extremely impressive package.”  I still stand by that description myself.  The questing is like WoW (and every WoW imitator), the combat is familiar, dungeons are instanced, there is raiding, progression is gear based.  A Realm Reborn strikes me a lot like the feeling from the Burning Crusade era of WoW with a few nice additions.

From the start, a major thing that stands out for FFXIV now is the crafting game. Where many MMOs treat crafting as a side activity, Square has an entire game built on crafting.  Crafting has its own full hot bars of actions requiring players to choose what’s best to use, and when, in order to improve the quality of their items. There’s a completely separate gear progression, with stat requirements and caps, for the crafting game.  If a player doesn’t care for traditional gameplay with dungeons and raids, one could conceivably focus all their time on gathering and crafting and still have a lot of things to do. Now, just so nobody jumps on me for ignorance, I’m not saying FFXIV is the only game to go in depth with crafting. Plenty of MMOs have done so. I’m just saying FFXIV is another that has done well with it.

Square has also treated the MMO as a traditional RPG. Taking notes from their success with FFXI, there is a main storyline quest chain that drives the overall main story of the game, complete with cut scenes.  Classes also have storyline quests with cut scenes.  All cut scenes are done with the game engine, which are rather impressive with the animations and expressiveness they’ve put into the models. Those same animations are often seen in various emotes as well.  Where other MMOs I’ve played have animations with their emotes, FFXIV has impressive ranges of facial expressions with theirs as well.

Yoshida and his team have also put in a good balance of content for “casual” and more dedicated approaches and have done a fantastic job implementing systems to prevent lower level content going dead as players reach max level.  Similar to WoW, FFXIV has bonuses offered for running dungeons per day, but they are broken down into Extreme (newest dungeons), Hard (high level), Low Level, Trials (single fight 8 man raids), and Main Scenario, which are various raids.  Players get bonuses for doing these, even the low level dungeons at max level, which syncs you down to the appropriate level.  There are 8 man raids in the Binding Coil of Bahamut, which push the difficulty and 24 man random group raids in the Crystal Tower entries, which release in alternating cycles. 

In addition to all this, there is Free Company (guild) housing, chocobo raising, gardening, Beast Tribe daily quests, Bounty Hunting, and the option to level every adventuring, gathering, and crafting classes on a single character.

After a year of playing Final Fantasy XI, it was a welcome change to be able to play solo in World of Warcraft, but as WoW became more and more solo focused and the story became less and less enjoyable, the nice balance of group and solo with a very cohesive and engaging story is a welcome change in Final Fantasy XIV.  WoW kept me engaged for 9 continuous years.  Final Fantasy XIV has kept me engaged for one year.  Here’s looking forward to the soon expected to be announced expansion and many years to enjoy.