I Can’t Wait to Die Again: Dark Souls II is Coming to PS4/XBox One in April 2015

One of the reasons this blog has been so barren over the last month or so is that I’m working on my next novel and participating in National Novel Writing Month. I have had no time to play games (well, I did create a character in Dragon Age: Inquisition), and I have barely been able to keep up with what’s going on in the gaming world.

BUT, anytime an announcement involving the Souls games (or Bloodborne for that matter) is made, my spider-sense goes off. Just as it did when Bandai Namco announced that an enhanced edition of Dark Souls II was coming to PS4 and Xbox One in April 2015.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin will feature visual upgrades, some tweaks to gameplay and most importantly, all three DLC expansions.

I “finished” Dark Souls II on PS3, although I have been trying to beat the Darklurker boss forever, so I haven’t started NG+ yet. I also haven’t played the DLC, and now I’m thinking that I’ll wait for the PS4 version to start a new playthrough and dive into that stuff.

Despite spending well over 100 hours with Dark Souls II on PS3, I still am just scratching he surface of that game. I’ll gladly but the enhanced edition for PS4. The only problem is that it’s coming out just a couple weeks after Bloodborne, so my guess is I’ll be getting Scholar of the First Sin a while after it’s April 7th release date.
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P.T. Does a Lot With a Little

I know I’m way late to the party on this one, but I’ve been spending some time with the Silent Hills P.T. demo a little bit at a time. It’s not really a game so much as a proof of concept, but what P.T. does very well is create a sense of dread.

In the video below, you’ll see just one loop of gameplay from the demo. The first time through the hallway, there’s something banging on the other side of a hallway door, and when that door opens the next time through the hallway, it’s pretty freaking creepy. The demo very effectively doles out small changes each time through the hallway, keeping you engaged and constantly looking back over your shoulder. It’s very effective, and if the game can capture this vibe, Silent Hills could be amazing.

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Destiny–A Look at the Stats Through Level 20

After another week and a total of 18 hours played, I’ve reached level 20 in Destiny. I’ve heard that the game “really begins” at level 20, and while time will tell if that’s true, I’ve had a great deal of fun getting to this point. So let’s look at some of my stats so far.

As I talked about in my last post, I’ve spent the majority of my time in the Crucible, the competitive multiplayer component of Destiny. Of my 18 hours so far, I’ve spent 8 in the crucible, just under 5 in the Story mode, and most of the remainder on Patrol missions in the various locations.

I really enjoy the way the Destiny app and Bungie.net keep track of all my stats. I’ve never been big into stat tracking, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to the stats Bungie is keeping. For example, I’ve played a total of 61 games (sessions) so far, and 39 of them have been Control (Domination) in the Crucible (Competitive Multiplayer). In those 39 matches, I’ve killed 303 enemies and died 419 times, for a K/D ratio of 0.72. That’s pretty great for me, since in most shooters I average about 0.40, and I haven’t approached 1.0 since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare back in 2007. My single best match of Control was on the First Light map, and I had 18 kills versus 4 deaths, and came in second on my team in scoring.

Looking at my stats confirms what I already knew–kills are not where I score my points. I get a lot of assists (153 so far) and I capture a lot of control points (185 so far). I also get a decent amount of defensive kills (47 so far), because I tend to linger around a point I’ve captured and try to defend it if there’s an enemy in the immediate area.

My overall strategy for control point-oriented games has been the same since the original Modern Warfare, and it works for me. Most of my levelling in Destiny has come through these matches, and through the completion of Bounties (challenges) that are tied into multiplayer.

Now that I’ve hit level 20, experience points are taking a back seat to Light–a special property of armor components that allows you to earn levels beyond 20. I’ll be diving into some of the high-level raids and strike missions that are now open to me, as well as joining up with one of the factions that I’m now eligible for. I suspect I’ll be diving back into Story mode as well.

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Why Destiny’s Competitive Multiplayer Stands Out for Me

According to Bungie.net, I’ve now spent almost eight hours playing Destiny.

This game has definitely got its hooks into me. What’s most surprising to me though, is that it’s the competitive multiplayer that I’m becoming addicted to, rather than the story campaign so far.

I’ve played through all of the Halo games, and it was always the campaign that I spent the most time with. I played mostly solo, although from time to time I’d have friends jump in and co-op with me. I suspect it will be the same for Destiny, if the first few hours are any indication. I played through three story missions with friends, and it was a lot more fun than playing through alone. I’ll talk about that more in my next post, though. Let’s talk multiplayer now.

I have always been pretty terrible at the competitive multiplayer modes in the Halo games, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were extremely well designed. And Destiny’s multiplayer modes share a lot of DNA with Halo, but there are some huge differences that so far have made my experience a lot more fun than frustrating.

I think the biggest difference between Destiny and Halo (and most other shooters) is the Abilities and Super Abilities that you can use in addition to your weapons. Some of the abilities function like grenades, which isn’t that big of a deal, but they have different properties by class, which adds variety. It’s the Super Abilities that really change the game, though. Each class a Super that charges over time and with certain actions. It’s usually a devastating attack that if used correctly, can take out multiple enemies at once. And if you wait until the right moment to use your Super, you can change the tide of a battle.

Another thing I really enjoy about the multiplayer in Destiny is the Bounty system. You can take on certain challenges that reward you with experience points upgrades and even weapons based on the type of bounty they are. So, if take on a few Crucible (multiplayer) Bounties, there are additional challenges I’m trying to complete while I’m playing through matches.

Finally, after each multiplayer match, there are gear rewards given out to random participants. So every match could end up netting you a new weapon or piece or armor.

All of these systems work together to make Destiny’s competitive multiplayer feel more dynamic to me than most other games. They give me a reason to keep coming back, even though I’m average at best and usually get owned by more skilled players. If this was a Halo game, I’d have already checked out of multiplayer to focus on the campaign by now. It’s the tweaks that Bungie has made to the formula that have kept me engaged so far.

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Destiny–Quick Impressions From the First Hour (Xbox One)

Like pretty much everyone else, I picked up my copy of Destiny yesterday. Unlike a lot of others though, I hadn’t really followed a lot of the coverage leading up to the game, and I didn’t play the beta at all. I kind of wanted to go in as unspoiled as possible. As someone who enjoyed the Halo games, I was excited to see what Bungie would do with their next big project.

I’m sure I’ll be writing quite a bit about Destiny in the weeks and months to come, but I just wanted to get some quick impressions down after playing through the opening mission and getting to the Tower.

I chose a Warlock class to begin with, and while the customization options were pretty sparse, I’m guessing (hoping) that you’ll be able to unlock more options in the future, like the ability to create your own markings, or at least cobble together new ones from existing assets like you can with emblems and callsigns in the Call of Duty series.

One of the first aspects of Destiny I immediately fell in love with was the score and sound design. The sweeping orchestral music in Destiny is amazing so far, and I’m less than an hour in. The music lends to feeling that this is the beginning of an epic tale, that the setting has a long history and that you play an important role in what’s to come. I loved Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s work on the Halo series, and it’s top-notch here (it’s a bummer O’Donnell is no longer with Bungie). The legendary Paul McCarney also lent his talents to the Destiny score, so there’s even more reason to love it. The overall sound design is pretty great so far as well, especially as you’re making your way through the cramped metal environment of the opening mission in Old Russia. From the weapons to the Warlock’s Vortex Grenade, it all sounds great.

Unsurprisingly, the mechanics are smooth as butter. The Halo series was always a joy to play from a mechanical standpoint (at least for me), and none of that has changed with Destiny. I’m still getting used to the button layout, but I can always change it if I want. Aiming, shooting, sprinting, jumping–all of it feels great.

To be honest though, the opening mission feels very Halo-y. The way the enemies move, the way the areas are laid out, and the overall encounter design feels very much like Halo. Now, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, and I actually think it’s by design. It feels like Bungie is easing Halo players into this new game, and that’s okay. I fully expect things to open up, especially when I get into the cooperative multiplayer aspects of the game.

When I got to the tower, I immediately had visions of the Citadel from Mass Effect and the player hubs in DC Universe Online (which is one of the few MMOs that I play). It definitely feels like an MMO hub, so no surprises there. I walked around a bit, and picked up some armor, which it looks like I can’t customize (although I’ve since read you unlock that ability at some point).

So, my first impressions of Destiny are that it’s very pretty, and it sounds and feels great. The game is very curated so far, and the early design feels a lot like Halo, with MMO elements. I look forward to diving in deeper, and I’m sure I’ll have much more to write about. I’ll also be doing some streaming, which I’ll post highlights of here on the blog.

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Diablo III Fits Like a Glove for This Old Gamer

Man, am I loving Diablo III so far.

I’m old–that is to say, I was around when videogames were first their way out of the arcades and into people’s homes. My next door neighbor had a Coleco Telestar system and my first console was the Atari 2600. I grew up on the Commodore 64 and the gold box D&D games (Pool of Radiance is still probably the best RPG ever made).

For me, sword and sorcery games hold a special place in my heart (I’ll be posting about my RPG love alter this week), and the Diablo series is unique among them. That may sound weird, because Diablo games are sort of a mish-mash of other games that came before them (Gauntlet and the aforementioned D&D games, to name a couple), but that’s what makes it unique to me. Even in 2014, the core gameplay and systems that made Diablo great in 1996 still hold up today, as they are the core aspects of D&D–fight monsters, level-up, get cool stuff. Rinse, repeat.

I grabbed the Ultimate Evil Edition of Diablo III for PS4 recently and have been having an absolute blast with it. For my first playthrough, I’m going with a wizard, and I recorded a bit of that playthrough the other day, which you can check out below. It’s from fairly early on in the first act, so it’s not super-spoilery.

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Even though the game has evolved since the 1996 original, Diablo III still has that old school feel, and it’s so easy to just pick up and play. I can put twenty minutes into it, or I can fall down the rabbit hole for hours. But I keep coming back to it whenever I turn on my PS4.

As I get deeper into the game, I’ll probably record a few more sessions and post about them here.

The Enthusaist Press Abandoned Its Freelancers During GamerGate

This has been without a doubt, the most depressing few weeks in gaming ever.

What’s broken about the games industry, gaming media and gaming fandom combined of form a super storm of negativity, hatred, harassment and ugliness over the past few weeks that has left a wake of carnage and destruction, primarily in the freelance community.

Rather than try to recap everything here, I’ll point you here and here for some recaps of what’s been going on. If you Google search GamerGate, you’ll find dozens more articles as well.

One of the biggest problems with trying to discuss issues this big on the internet is that it’s very easy to lose the human element and people tend to greatly over-generalize.

There are a million gaming blogs out there that will be doing autopsies on GamerGate for months (maybe years) to come. But one of the aspects of this that you probably won’t read about on the big enthusiast press sites is how while all of this was going down, they stood by and watched their freelancers get devoured by wolves.

The worst example is Jenn Frank, an award-winning writer who not only was one of my favorite people at 1UP back in the day, has written some amazing pieces about games and life over the past few years. Where were all of her colleagues, or the sites she’s written for when all of this was going down? Nowhere to be found. And the harassment was so bad it drove her away from writing about games.

There were other writers who decided to walk away as well, and a great many more that were caught in the wave of harassment and ugliness that has enveloped everything about GamerGate. These harassment campaigns tied to “ethics in journalism”  were largely targeted at female freelancers, and the sites that they’ve done work for were almost completely silent while this was happening. Whatever their reasoning was, it sent a pretty strong message about how they value freelancers.

When the smoke clears, the people who led the campaigns of targeted harassment will be exposed. No one can deny that sexism and misogyny are part of the gaming culture when we all just saw how this whole GamerGate situation unfolded. No one can unsee what has happened.

But hopefully the enthusiast press has learned a few lessons here as well, and will think about how they conduct themselves with game developers, publishers, their audience and most importantly, the freelancers who help keep their sites alive and work for almost nothing (and in many cases actually nothing). There’s a lot of work to be done there.

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Twitch Is a Better Fit for Amazon Than People Might Think

In a very interesting turn of events last week, Amazon bought video streaming service Twitch for just under a billion dollars. This came as quite a surprise, because for the past several weeks, the prevailing rumor was that Google was buying Twitch for about the same price.

Google buying Twitch made a lot of sense, both from a technology standpoint and a business standpoint. By owning Twitch, they no longer would have to compete with Twitch, and they would have a livestreaming platform to compliment their recorded video platform. Because despite the improvements in Google Hangouts and YouTube livestreaming, Twitch was still way ahead of Google in the livestreaming space.

But with Amazon swooping in and getting Twitch in the eleventh hour, Google went from potentially owning the online video space to facing even stronger competition from one of its biggest rivals, in an area they previously didn’t have to worry about.

That’s a whole other subject, however. Let’s just focus for a moment on what the addition of Twitch could mean for Amazon, and for gamers.

Amazon already has a video on demand service with Amazon Instant Video. Now they have a livestreaming service with over 50 million users, who spend up to two hours a day consuming content. That’s a lot of eyes for Amazon to show ads to, and an added value for their Prime subscription service if they want to offer an an ad-free option.

On the gaming front, anyone who was skeptical when Amazon talked about getting into the gaming space should be a believer by now. They launched a games studio in 2012, created a game controller for their their Kindle Fire TV, and have added asymmetrical co-op features to some of their games, allowing someone with a Kindle Fire HDX tablet to play along with someone using a game controller on the Fire TV. Now they have added the biggest gameplay streaming platform in the world to their ecosystem. And while none of these pieces may fit together perfectly yet, the point is that Amazon now has all of these pieces. They can build games and services moving forward that leverage their devices and their video platforms.

Not to mention, now Twitch has additional resources to continue improving and expanding its core services, and I wouldn’t expect Amazon to screw with what’s working already. They may offer enhanced services to those already participating in the Amazon ecosystem (Prime subscribers and Kindle device owners), but I think those that just want to stream content from their consoles or PCS, or watch streamed content will be able to do so whether they are using Amazon services or not.

Of course, Twitch can stream more than just gameplay, so Amazon now also has another platform to create and distribute original programming to an audience of millions. I could easily imagine the Amazon Weekly Book Club video podcast, or the Amazon Instant Video Picks of the Week show. They could even create programs similar to X-Play and Electric Playground, which would be a perfect fit for the Twitch audience.

So, I’m pretty excited to see what Amazon does moving forward. They said they were jumping into the video game space, and they’ve done just that, in more ways than one.

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New 3DS Models Pave the Way for Increased Wii U Interactivity, Possible GamePad Replacement

This morning at a Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced new models of the 3DS and 3DS XL, which will hit Japan later this year and presumably, the US next year. The new models have better CPUs, built-in NFC capability and, most importantly, a second analog stick.

Well, it’s not really a stick, so much as a nub. But, this means the new models will have all the functionality of a Wii U tablet, built into the 3DS.

Now, I’ve been saying since the Wii U launched that with the addition of the Circle Pad Pro, a 3DS could function as a tablet controller for the Wii U (although it did not have NFC included). With the new models, everything you need to make the 3DS a Wii U controller is built into it already.

If Nintendo could make this work, then they could offer a version of the Wii U without the tablet for under $200, and New 3DS owners could use those devices as the primary tablet. They could also bundle the Wii U and New 3DS together for $399, giving them a great value proposition when compared to the Xbox One and PS4. The library of games the Wii U now has, coupled with the enormous catalog of 3DS games would be a huge selling point.

Now of course, I don’t know if this is part of Nintendo’s plan moving forward, but here’s why I think it is. Nintendo is fracturing their 3DS user base with this move. The 3DS is currently their most successful console. There will be games you can play on the New 3DS that can’t be played on the old models. In the long run, the only reason this would make sense is if Nintendo was updating the 3DS to enable it to be more interactive with the Wii U, and potentially replace the GamePad.

This could be very interesting.

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Exiting the Tomodachi Life

Though I’m an online creature, I don’t think that the online version of me is radically different than the meatspace version of me that occupies the physical world. The same brain directs both versions of me, even though the brain has to adjust to how each version of me interacts with and receives feedback from its respective world. The same soul is reflected in how the digital and physical me interacts with the people who inhabit each world.

Since I never made a distinction between the digital and the physical me, I never saw the point of playing social simulations like The Sims, Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon. Furthermore, the physical act of playing social simulations like The Sims or Animal Crossing seemed particularly tedious; there didn’t seem to be the type of feedback that more active games like character action-adventure games or sports simulation games or first person shooters can provide.

So, I was surprised at my own reaction to what I saw of Tomodachi Life, specifically when the Giant Bomb crew played it on an episode of their weekly show, Unprofessional Fridays. The game’s quirkiness appealed to me, and for a while, it kept me glued to the game on my commute to work every morning. One morning, I found that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I had invited to live on island, named Tummy Isle Island, had been arrested for adding hot mustard to foods around the island. No explanation was given for why Jesus had made this his mission, and the other residents of Tummy Isle Island had muted reactions to this news. Another morning, Jesus attempted to break the world record of facial distortion by stretching his face but failed by an inch. Did Jesus go on his hot mustard mission because he failed to break this world record, or was it because I fed him something that he didn’t like the day before? Another morning, one resident dreamed an ill-fated romance between a brownie and a stack of pancakes. On a different morning, another resident dreamed that he was a bobblehead on a dashboard of a car that was racing through a dark forest. One night, my own avatar dreamed that he was a snail crawling along a blank white floor. These snippets sound like gibberish when I recount them to anyone else.

Though quirky and kooky stuff have a fairly limited lifespan (I’ve seen the dashboard bobblehead dream multiple times from different residents, so it seems like something with which the game likes to populate its characters’ dreams), that wasn’t what ultimately caused me to  finally put Tomodachi Life aside. Instead, it’s something that should seem impossible for a game that’s as theoretically personalized as Tomodachi Life: the feeling of homogeneity.

For a while, my game felt personalized enough that I wasn’t left wondering about the game’s nuts and bolts. The goal is to keep the avatars I’ve populated Tummy Isle Island with as happy as possible by meeting their essential needs (food, clothes, shelter, companionship). I populated my world with a mix of celebrities (Shaq, the Giant Bomb crew), my family members (my wife, son, brother, and sister-in-law), my friends, and fictional characters (Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Rei Ayanami, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Geordi LaForge, Yotsuba&!‘s Yotsuba Koiwai, and Left4Dead‘s Zoey and Louis). Though I inserted my wife and me into the game, but there’s no obvious guarantee that they would become sweethearts and eventually husband and wife. (Except, if you think about the game’s logic, there is, but we’ll explore that later.) As in real life, my wife’s avatar proposed to me, and I felt awful when I botched my wife’s avatar’s proposal to my avatar by tapping the screen at the wrong time.

As time passes and I continue to solve the avatars’ problems, the avatars’ levels rise. I think my avatar is at level 14; Shaq’s probably at level 13. The game’s simulacrum breaks not from the fact that the avatars’ measure their growth in levels, but from the homogeneity that this mechanic forces upon the avatar. At each level, the player is forced to give the character a gift from a limited selection, a catchphrase for when the character is angry, happy, or sad, an apartment design again from a limited selection, a song from a limited selection of styles, or some pocket money from the player’s own in-game funds. In the physical world, I can’t rap or sing opera. But, my avatar in Tomodachi Life does because I simply ran out of things I could give him as he gained levels. The player is limited in the number and type of gifts we can give the avatars; almost all of the avatars, including Jesus of Nazareth, on Tummy Isle Island have cell phones I had to give them something, and Jesus didn’t seem like the type to have a punching bag. Similarly, my wife and I both rap, sing opera, have cell phones, and have the same apartment designs. The distinctions between characters gets filed down by the limited variety of things we can do when the characters level up. In order to keep the avatars unique, I can either give them pocket change that they won’t use from a pool I need to use to buy things to keep the avatars happy or homogenize them.

Once the game’s own obstacle to avatar growth became clear, I was given the mental space to wonder how and why my avatars formed their connections. It was fairly obvious why my wife’s avatar formed a relationship with my own avatar: we were the only avatars on Tummy Isle Island for a while. Oddly enough, neither avatar ever formed a connection with my son’s avatar, even though I had designated in the Mii Creator that he was our son. This left me in a weird position of wondering what happens when our avatars have a baby in Tomodachi Life when our actual kid’s avatar is already in the game and seemingly estranged from our avatars. And this doubt led me to where social simulation games die: GameFAQs.

The moment I’m tempted to open a guide to understand the game’s nuts and bolts, the game’s illusions are dispelled. And because the mini-games in Tomodachi Life are shallow, the mechanics of clothing and feeding the avatars shallow, and the lifespan of quirkiness fairly limited, I took the cartridge out of the 3DS XL that I ostensibly bought so I could play Tomodachi Life with a small sense of relief.