Introducing Co-Op Craft: Family Edition!

We’re getting a lot of new segments and series up and running around Co-Op Critics HQ, and one of them hit our YouTube channel today. Our Co-Op Craft series will feature videos of various Co-Op Critics playing Minecraft on different platforms. But the Co-Op Craft: Family Edition is a special series that features my son and I playing Minecraft together on the Xbox One. The first episode of the series can be seen in the player above, or you can check it our on our YouTube page.

You’ll notice that the game audio in this video is unusually loud compared to our voices. That’s something we expect to have ironed out by the next installment.

Thanks for watching!

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The Co-Op Crop Report: 1/18-1/25/15

We’ve come out of the box strong so far in 2015, and the evolution of Co-Op Critics is well underway. This is the first installment of a weekly update series here on the blog that will recap the new content we’ve produced between our Twitch channel, the YouTube page and right here on Co-OpCritics.com.

Last Sunday, we posted a Co-Op Plays video of Nick, Jeff and I taking on Destiny’s Weekly Heroic Strike, the “Devil’s Lair.”

On Monday, I posted some thoughts on the multiplayer mode of Dragon Age: Inquisition, featuring a Co-Op Plays video of Nick and I hacking and slashing with some randoms.

On Tuesday I posted some thoughts on Nintendo’s announcement that Club Nintendo would be winding down at the end of June 2015.

On Wednesday, I gushed over the news that Elder Scrolls Online would be dropping its subscription fee and arriving on Xbox One and PS4 in June.

Friday night featured a three-hour livestream of Jeff, Nick and I playing Destiny (Strikes, Crucible matches and Story Missions).

And today saw the launch of Co-Op Craft: Family Edition–a new series where my son Parker and I play Minecraft together. I’ll be posting more about that tomorrow.

So, it was a pretty full week here at Co-Op Critics, and we are just getting started. You’ve seen our new logo popping up here and there, and the facelift for the site will continue in the coming weeks. We’ll be back this week with a new episode of the Co-Op Critics audio podcast, and we’ll also be posting the episode on YouTube with some accompanying gameplay video.

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Dropping the Subscription Fee is the Right Move For Elder Scrolls Online

When the next-gen consoles were originally announced, the one thing that had me the most excited was the potential of getting more MMOs onto consoles. I had a blast with DC Universe Online for PS3, and I was hoping the power of the new consoles would really open the floodgates.

The game I was most excited about coming to consoles was Elder Scrolls Online, because I was already a fan of the series (I put 100+ hours into Oblivion on both Xbox 360 and PS3).

Until I heard they would be charging $15 a month.

With PS4 and Xbox One users already paying a monthly subscription fee for online features, adding another fee on top of that would dissuade many a gamer from even giving ESO a try. But, I had faith that by the time the game actually arrived on consoles, that fee would be long gone.

And so it came to pass. Yesterday, Bethesda Softworks not only announced the end of ESO’s subscription fee, but they announced the release date for the console versions of the game–June 9th. The game will cost $60 up front, but after that, you only have to put money into it if you want to. As with many other free-to-play MMOs, there will be in-game perks and other things to purchase for those who want them.

It’s no secret that the MMO strategy in the current gaming landscape is to launch with a subscription fee, get as many early adopters to pay for as long as you can, then transition to free-to-play for the life of the game. D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and many more have followed the same path before, and for the most part, the transition has worked for them. The main difference for ESO is that you’ll still be paying up front for the game, similar to what Guild Wars does.

But the dropping of the subscription fee is the key to survival for these games, and I like ESO’s chances now that it will debut on consoles without that fee. I will absolutely be getting the game, and I’m happy to invest $60 to dive into the online world of Tamriel.

This is the right move by Bethesda Softworks, not just for the console versions of ESO, but for the future of the game. I think ESO could be huge on consoles.

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Club Nintendo, I Hardly Knew Ya

In a message to its members on Monday, Nintendo announced the discontinuation of Club Nintendo, its six-year-old customer loyalty program. As of July 1, 2015, Club Nintendo all close user accounts forever. 

It’s not all gloom and doom, as Nintendo is doing this to clear the way for a new customer loyalty program, one which hopefully will integrate better with the Nintendo Network (which could use its own overhaul, but that’s a discussion for a later time).
Anyway, members can continue to register purchased games until March 31st, but only on already-released products. The coins they earn for registering and other activities (surveys, etc.) can still be redeemed for game downloads and merchandise until June 30, 2015. That reminds me, I’ve got some coins to spend…
Despite being a lover of all things Nintendo, I was a latecomer to the Club Nintendo party. I had heard about it on a few gaming podcasts, but it was my friendly neighborhood GameStop manager (they’re not all the monsters the gaming media makes them out to be) who really made me realize it was worth my time and minimal effort to enroll. The first product I registered with them was my original 3DS back in 2012. 
And as customer loyalty programs go, Club Nintendo was a pretty cool one. I’m not a big collector of merchandise, so I used the coins I earned for a bunch of Virtual Console game downloads for my 3DS and WiiU. Getting free games for buying games I was going to get anyway? Pretty sweet.
The biggest bummer about Club Nintendo shutting down is that I didn’t take advantage of the program for the first three and a half years it was around. With all the DS and Wii games I bought, I’m sure I would have earned some sweet rewards.
Nevertheless, whatever the next iteration of the Club Nintendo program may be, I know I’ll be signing up for it day one this time around. 
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First Impressions–Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Multiplayer is Hackin’ Slashin’ Fun

I have put about 40 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition’s (DA:I) single-player campaign so far, and I am totally loving it. Until this past weekend however, I hadn’t even touched the multiplayer component of the game. That’s hardly out of character for me, as I never played Mass Effect’s multiplayer either, despite hearing about how great it was. When it comes to RPGs, I am a single-player kind of guy, and I really had no interest in DA:I’s multiplayer, as nothing you unlock or earn in it can translate over to the single-player game.

But, fellow Co-Opper Nick convinced me to give DA:I’s multiplayer a shot, and it turns out it’s a blast.

The mode is a four-member, horde mode-style experience where you team up with others and try to make it through five areas of what amounts to a dungeon. If the party gets wiped, you’re done, but you keep any rewards you’ve earned up to that point. You earn XP and gold along the way, which can be used to upgrade your abilities and purchase random item and consumable packs, respectively. You begin with a choice of three different characters, but unlock nine more along the way, eventually giving you a stable of twelve to level up and equip.

There’s more to it than that, but you get the gist. Int he video below you can see Nick and I blast through a mission with two random players.

I’ve only played with the Legionnaire so far (a Dwarven fighter), but I’m having a lot of fun with it. The combat is exactly the same as the single-player game, and it’s more dynamic (and sometimes challenging) when you’re playing with actual people instead of AI in your party. At it’s core, this is basically a 4-player, D&D-style dungeon crawl. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun,

I plan on spending more time with the mode and unlocking additional characters. I’m sure I’ll post more about it, and DA:I in general, in the coming weeks.

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AZ Screen Recorder is a Free, Awesome Screen Capture App

One of the cooler features of Android Lollipop is the ability to enable screen capturing without rooting your device. For Co-Op Critics, that means I can do some gameplay capture and commentary for mobile games, which I’ve been wanting to do for some time. And I’m happy to say that I found an app that has almost everything I’d want in a screen recording app.

AZ Screen Recorder is a very simple and intuitive app that lets you record what’s happening on your mobile device’s screen. You can adjust the quality of the recording, record audio via the device’s mic, and best of all, you can export directly to YouTube.

So last night, after downloading the app, I recorded this quick video of me playing Zen Pinball:

Pretty great, right? And I’m not just talking about me getting 4 million points on my first ball, I’m talking about the quality of the recording. The app works pretty much seamlessly, and uploaded pretty quickly as well.

My only complaint about this app is that because it’s recording from the mic, it’s recording the game audio that’s coming out of the speakers, as well as any noise I’m making. That’s fine if i want to do commentary, but as you can hear in this video, whenever I brushed over the mic area of my Nexus 9, you could hear it.

But that’s a small complaint for an app that is so easy to use. And did I mention it’s completely free? Because it is, and what the devs are giving you for nothing is pretty amazing.

I will be getting plenty of use out of AZ Screen Recorder, and you can expect more frequent posts about mobile games in addition to the console and PC stuff we talk about around here.

You can download AZ Screen Recorder on the Google Play Store here.

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We’ve Got a YouTube Channel and G+ Page!

Well, we’ve actually had both a Google+ and YouTube page for some time, but they were kind of placeholders, as I hadn’t done anything with them. But necessity is the mother of invention they say, and a recent problem with Twitch led me to actually do something with the YouTube and G+ pages.

There’s a problem with the Twitch embedded players–they are autoplaying even though the setting is set to “off.” This is a known issue and it hasn’t been fixed yet. One of the reasons I haven’t been posting more Twitch highlights here lately is that I don’t want the whole front page of the blog to start autoplaying whenever someone comes here to check out a post.

Good news, though! I can export highlights to the new Co-Op Critics YouTube page, and then embed them here, so we’re back in business. What’s more, all of the highlights posted here will be archived on that YouTube page now, so if there’s something you want to go back to, you’ll be able to. The only real downer is that the videos are restricted to 15 minutes, so for longer videos, you’ll still have to go to the Twitch page to see them.

I’d really like to build up more of a community around this blog and the Google+ page, so expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks. I’ll also be recording new podcast episodes, so stay tuned!

For your reference (and I’ll put these on the sidebar as well, here are the places you can find co-Op Critics:

Blog: co-opcritics.com
Twitch: twitch.tv/coopcritics
YouTube: youtube.com/c/Co-opcritics
Google+: google.com/+Co-opcritics

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Console Gaming is No Longer a Smoother Experience Than PC Gaming

Seems like you can’t go three clicks on a gaming site these days without reading about broken console experiences. Games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Halo: Master Chief Collection have been rife with bugs and major issues since launch. The recent hacks of both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network meant many people who got a new console for Christmas couldn’t download or play games on them. 

As I downloaded the 40GB update for Assassin’s Creed: Unity on XBox One this week (because a screw-up meant the “patch” was actually a re-download of the entire game), I couldn’t help but think:

Has console gaming lost the one true edge that it had on PC gaming for years?

I don’t think I’m alone in the reason I’ve preferred console gaming to PC gaming for years now–it’s been a much smoother experience. Not having to worry about different control schemes, driver updates and compatibility issues was a major reason that I have been primarily a console gamer for most of my adult life. If there was one thing you could count on when it came to console gaming, it was that things would just work. Buy a game, put it in your console, and play.

But not only has PC gaming gotten much easier over the past few years with things like Steam’s ‘Big Picture Mode’ and the fact that most games have controller support, but PC games offer a substantial edge to console games when it comes to pricing. As I type this, you can get the Tomb Raider: Game of the Year Edition for $6 on Steam. And through sites like Good Old Games, you can play classics like the original Deus Ex for $2.50.

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have come out of the gate with a lot of the same problems that used to make PC gaming such a pain in the butt–constant updating, lots of bugs and in some cases, games that are broken on arrival and require multiple patches to fix. Add into that their unstable online services, and it feels like console gaming has lost pretty much all of the advantages it used to offer over PC gaming.

Most of the conversation around broken games and constant updates has centered around publishers and developers. But Microsoft and Sony might want to take a larger role in quality control moving forward, because the easier PC gaming becomes, the more likely console gamers are to jump over to the land of better visuals, better prices and a more stable user experience.

Final Thoughts–Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4)

The last time I wrote about Tomb Raider was back in July 2013, when I had picked the game up on the Steam Summer Sale. At the time, the quick-time events in the beginning of the game were such a turn-off for me that I actually stopped playing it.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and a flash sale that happened on PSN after Thanksgiving. I grabbed Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4) for $18.00. And while the quick-time events are still the weak point of the game in my opinion, they’re just about the only weak point. Tomb Raider is an absolutely fantastic game, and I am so glad I gave it another chance.

Like many, I’m a Tomb Raider fan from back in the day. Playing the original on the first PlayStation is one of those experiences I’ll remember forever.

I was excited about the idea of the Tomb Raider reboot, and Lara becoming more of a fleshed-out character. And as fantastic as the new Tomb Raider looks and plays, I think the reinvention of Lara as a character is the game’s biggest achievement. Experiencing the evolution of Lara as a survivor and an explorer is easily the most enjoyable journey I’ve taken with Lara in the history of the franchise.

But let’s not gloss over the gameplay, because it’s pretty fantastic overall. The bow combat in particular is just super fun. And the one place I didn’t mind the quick-time events was in the finishing moves that add another layer to the combat system. by the end of the game, I had gone from long-range sniper to looking for opportunities to get up close and personal with enemies just so i could finish them with a flourish. The traversal mechanics are also excellent, and for me a huge leap ahead of anything I’ve encountered in the Assassin’s Creed series. I started dabbling in AC: Unity while playing through Tomb Raider, and it still amazes me how clunky traversal can be sometimes–but that’s another post for another day.

So, to recap–I loved the story and loved the gameplay in Tomb Raider. I am stoked for the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider on XBox One, and in the meantime I’ll be revisiting this game to complete the tombs that I still have to explore after finishing the main story.

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Rocksmith Diaries #1: I Reallllly Like the Way this Game Teaches

I am a humongous music fan, and one of my biggest regrets in life is not learning to play an instrument. I had a guitar when I was 14 years old, and although my best friend also had one and went on to become an amazing player, I never had the dedication to really learn how to play. In my mid-30’s, I decided to buy a bass guitar and take some lessons. I could only afford about six month’s worth of lessons, and when I stopped going, my practice time continued to dwindle until the bass was pretty much gathering dust. This despite music continuing to be a huge part of my everyday life. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about playing music.

Writing is my primary creative outlet (although you could make a strong case for podcasting as well), and while it’s immensely satisfying to write a short story or an entire novel, it does not scratch the musical itch I have.

I’ve had a lot of success writing first drafts of my novels during NaNoWriMo, an event that somewhat gamifies writing by having you set daily and monthly word counts, giving achievements for hitting certain milestones and just generally making goal-setting fun. Ubisoft’s Rocksmith games are built on a similar premise of gamifying the learning process for guitar and bass. I picked up Rocksmith 2014 the other day, and through the first few hours I’ve spent with it, I am really liking the game’s approach to teaching, as it makes practice fun.

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The tutorial process is a mix of videos demonstrating everything from the basics of the physical instrument itself to positioning and picking techniques. The actual lessons are tablature-based, and what’s really cool about them is that they build as you get better. For example, a practice bass track might start out with 15-20 notes that you need to play. Once I hit a certain accuracy mark more notes are added in, and this process continues until you’re playing the entire bass line.

It’s a really great approach to teaching, because it lets you learn the outline of the song, and then become progressively more detailed. In the lessons i took before, I might learn the beginning of the song for example, and then move on to the next chunk. Rocksmith gives you the whole song, but lets you play more and more complete versions of the song as you get better.

It’s really early on in the process, and I don’t want to make any predictions based on my lousy history of trying to learn an instrument, but what I can say is that Rocksmith takes an excellent approach to teaching, and since you’re playing a real instrument as opposed to a plastic toy, you’re learning with every moment you spend with the game.

I’ll record some more snippets of my progress as I go along. Wish me luck!

P.S. Sorry for making you click out on the video. For some reason, if I just embed the clip, it autoplays every time you load the page, and I didn’t want that.