Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Things That The Lizard Squad Situation Can Teach Us

If you tried to play any Xbox360/XboxOne/PS3/PS4 games with an online component on Christmas day or a day later, you may have been one of the many gamers worldwide that found themselves feeling like a modern gaming version of the guy from Cast Away. This is most especially true (and somewhat cruel) if you got some of the hottest new games/consoles as Christmas presents. Now that most of the dust has settled, we have to admit that even though it was hell on earth for some people, there are some good things to learn about this whole DDOS attack fiasco. As you read, look for the lessons in red even though you may disagree with some of them.

frustrated mario

First, take a moment to check your entire game library...

If you take some time to look at your library of games, there is a high probability that you have a lot of games that you haven't really touched in a while even though you haven't finished them. You know why is that? It is because those abandoned games are mostly offline and part of you doesn't want that as you are accustomed to playing online and making progress in order to stay in par with your peers be it in aspects like your character level, rank, equipment/items or just the social value of the online experience.

The thing about all this is that competition/cooperative online based gaming is not the only type of gaming that exists and you may have forgotten that even if the online service is off, you are not necessarily stranded as you may have some offline options that otherwise you would be missing out because of the way you pressure yourself to an online only experience. It is good to let go every now and then and enjoy all the games you have even when they are not an always connected (and prone to attacks) experience. Of course before you scoff at the screen and say that The Gamertologist is an antisocial prick, know that this does not imply that you should just become an offline gamer, it just suggests that there are more games out there that you can play to make the best of such a situation where the online service fails because of stuff like the recent DDOS attacks. Well... now that the so called "Distributed Denial of Service" attack has been mentioned, there is another important thing to point out.

army of orcs

A DDOS attack can be more serious than you think...

The first time we saw the explanation of what happened to the two big online gaming networks during the attack, many people classified it as a simple thing that shouldn't take a lot of time to fix, when in fact recovery can be pretty difficult once the attack happens. There isn't a magical instantaneous fix to a DDOS attack and this is because this type of attack is relentless. You can either prevent it before it happens at full force or suffer the consequences.

Picture this, imagine that you have your own small server with a service that accepts let's say 5000 people connected at once. Now imagine that a group of hackers start sending 5000 simultaneous connections to your server and fill each and every one of your available spaces so now your server thinks it is full and doesn't let anybody else in. You then get aware of the situation and you summon your security crew in order to fight back to dismiss those fake connections, but each time your people manage to clear some of them, more keep coming.

This is the equivalent of a handful of knights fighting an endless horde of orcs on a bridge. Unless you somehow close that bridge they will keep coming, but you won't be able to do that unless you can slay a great number of them and win some much needed time in order to been able to run and set the barricades. So once it happens you can only destroy the bridge (shut off the service) and re-build it (bring the service back again) once the battle is over.


But those orcs aren't even supposed to be able to get near you...

O.k we now agreed that the attacks were not as simple as we thought, but what about the companies themselves? Why is their security not strong enough to prevent or at least minimize the impact of these kind of attacks? The Christmas day incident was completely unnecessary in so many ways that it isn't even funny. This is even more disturbing if we consider that Lizard Squad gave a warning almost a month before Christmas day, so they were either too skeptic or just too lazy. All This means that companies are low-balling their online services, attempting to win a million while spending a cent.

If they are acting like this, then we must pressure them to put some more effort into their network security systems, just so that we don't have to live through those types of annoyances on a service that isn't free. Now on the broader side of things,what's really worrying about the situation is that these types of incidents shows a pretty weak side of the so called digital gaming era and this can mean only one thing...


"Online Digital only" total dominance has been set back for a while because of the attacks.

The lizards have managed to make a really nasty dent the iron clad trust that consumers used to have on these services and that means that the online digital only gaming environment is not be the safe happy place we thought it was. It has become a very nice and convenient service yes, but it has shown that if we ever fully dependent on it there is such a high risk that you may wake up one morning and find out that you have lost all of your games because X group of hackers woke up on the wrong side of their beds.

What Lizard Squad did can never be justified, but we can still at least take the few things that we could learn from the situation and give them some thought. It not only makes you a smarter consumer, but also makes you a wiser gamer and a more conscious tech user that wont be swayed by fads or smoke and mirrors. In any way, we as consumers have to be alert, not only in order to be ready for these kinds of happenings, but also to know the underlying causes and fight against them.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

5 Cool Aspects About Gaming That Are Fading Away

Gaming is a hobby that involves a lot of cool things that that enhance your enjoyment as a gamer be it by yourself or with a bunch of friends. It all seems awesome until you realize that many of those enhancers have been lost in this day and age due to an ever changing market and society. Today we are going to see 5 of them so without further ado, lets get to them.

Mordecai and Rigby Playing

1) Epic long term collective gaming campaigns:
Most of us are probably able to remember the times when a group of friends got hooked with a game and spent a very long time religiously playing and basically making it part of their lives. You may be thinking about mmorpgs, but it doesn't have to be limited to those kinds of games. For example, back in the 16 bit era, all the kids in the neighborhood where I live (myself as a kid included) got hooked with several games through very long time periods. Games like Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Phantasy Star IV, Zombies Ate My Neighbors were some of those titles that managed to keep everybody playing and sharing ideas, all with the goal of beating the game and/or unlocking its secrets. At the time it was sort of special to receive a visit from one of your friends early on a Saturday morning because they finally figured out how to beat a stage or where to find that secret treasure, a special experience that later on was well converted into online gaming. Of course we weren't stuck with playing the same game 100% of our time, but our main one always remained at the top of our list for months and months.

Nowadays it is all different. Ask yourself when was the last time you and your friends (or contacts) dedicated themselves to a certain game for a period longer than let's say 3 weeks. In this day and age, games are released so close to one another that just when you started to get hooked to one game, everybody changes to another, breaking all cohesion in a matter of hours. This happens because when we see a bunch of new games all released at once (especially since they chose Tuesday to be standard day for game releases) we tend to want to try them all and in the end choose one to keep on playing. What happens after that is that in all the commotion of who is playing what, there is a great chance that you and your friends will end up hooked to different games so that means that you will not be sharing so much play time as you used to. This is unless you can convince others to come play the same game with you, but that seems sort of unnatural because playing one game while been hooked with another is not that fun.

Juste Belmont
This is Juste Belmont from Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002). At that time
everybody saw him as an awesome looking character, but this same character today may be
labeled as "weird", "unrealistic" or "pale dude that looks like a woman".
2) Content Relativity
Another thing to remember were the times when anything in a game was plausible. There were no boundaries between what looked "too much like a cartoon" and what looked "realistic". A long time ago, a game character or game world could be cool in whatever form they used to show it and things like surrealism, emotion and even wackiness were welcomed with open arms. Things were so simple back then, that characters and game worlds came in just two flavors, awesome or lame.

Nowadays is all about nitpicking. The mainstream gaming community has too many people that have big prejudices against certain types of game content. For them anime style characters are "weird",  a skinny hero with long hair is "emo" and other times they classify characters and environments as "not having enough realism". It is also worth noting how characters now are labeled as if they were real human beings. Stuff like "that character looks too (insert race, nationality or physical characteristic)" or the occasional "omg that is so prejudiced" are the kind of attitudes that are dominant right now, even though they are a sign of disrespect for the artists who are behind a game, especially when the vision behind the art is justified by either the story or game elements. We have to once again learn to see fiction for what it is and not mix it up with reality in such a negative way. This changes the whole ball game for those of us who see that aspect of gaming as something simple and makes us feel left out when gaming companies decide to appeal to the nitpickers.

Game releases then and now

3) Convenient Releases
Once upon a time, games were released on different days without a specific pattern. At some times they would coincide, but in most cases game releases used to be all over and such randomness was good for us gamers. There was also a trend of favoring weekend game releases (a thing that Nintendo still does) which was perfect for anybody who had responsibilities like school, college or work. Had you even been through the experience of been at college/school and finding out that some game you were interested about has released that very same day? Most of the time that piece of information turned a normal routine afternoon into a road trip and that was part of the beauty within all the chaos of the game release schedules of old.

In our present day we as gamers are plagued by a game release standard that is good for retailers, but horrible for us consumers. Most games and updates are released on Tuesdays while a very small group of new releases are unleashed to the public on other days (like Nintendo releasing their games on Fridays and some companies that release on Sundays in special occasions). This puts a lot of pressure on us and makes the whole world of gaming a lot less comfortable.

Videogame community then and now

4) Gaming been something separate from real life and society.
It may be a little difficult for some gamers (especially younger generations) to believe, but there was a point in time where gaming had nothing to do with real life problems. Censors existed back then just like they do now and extremely violent games were indeed a topic of discussion, but there was no real emphasis in things like political correctness or protesting because some aspect of a game resembles a social flaw from real life. Back then, a game was just a completely fictional world, an escape from our daily routines and not something to judge based on your opinion on how society should be. People enjoyed games without mixing it up all with things like sexism, misogyny, racism, profiling and bad stuff like that. Things were a lot simple because we as gamers didn't need any of those complications and we were a lot happier without all the unnecessary controversy.

Nowadays the whole gaming world has become a social battlefield where every game is heavily scrutinized in the search for anything that might "offend" someone. This has gone so far, that even when a game is just announced and still months from been released, if it has even one "offensive" indication (regardless of how dull the argument is) the outrage starts and heads begin to roll as the so called "activists" start spreading the same hate they so much claim to be against.

Console wars of the past

5) Fun fan boy wars
Fanboyism is something that is hated now, but it used to be quite fun in the past. The reason for this is that fan boys of the past battled with facts rather than just saying "boo hoo your platform sucks". From the 16 bit wars up to the Dreamcast vs PS2 showdown, battles were fought, won and lost, but they were very far from been a whine-fest. When 2 gamers started an argument about two or more different platforms most of the people who were witnessing it actually learned something because facts and strong arguments were used in the crossfire and each side understood which were their strengths and weaknesses. There was no "meh" attitude and best of all, there were no labels or personal insults, making a "fan boy" discussion to be just a smart discussion between two or more people with a biased opinion.

Nowadays the closest we will get to those smart discussions is seen pictures comparing a game between two platforms without even taking into account the technicalities that can cause those difficulties and the hurdles that the developers had to go through in order to make the game. It almost seems as if the gaming media itself is helping cause these whine-fests in order to receive more visits and clicks. Sadly no matter how heated a modern fan boy conversation gets, it is very unlikely to learn anything other than clever ways to whine or how to ruin a sarcastic remark by been a poor snub.

The Gamertologist Bottom Line:
These 5 gaming aspects are just a few of the whole lot of things that we are slowly losing as gamers. You may see all this as a nostalgic mind trip, but believe me when I tell you that this is more about how comfortable, simple and convenient the gaming world used to be in the past, supported by facts rather than by nostalgic thoughts. Do we have a chance to stop all this and get back the things that we have lost? I leave that for you to judge.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

3 Creatures That Would Be Cool To Have As Monsters In Evolve

Evolve is one of those game concepts that is just awesome. If you haven't been following this game you must know that Evolve will be a first person shooter that pits 4 player controlled human hunters vs 1 big and powerful creature (that is also controlled by a player) in futuristic maps where both sides will have to play in a very strategic, but fierce way in order to survive. Up until now they have only shown us 3 creatures which are Goliath (A big bi-pedal grunt-like monster), Kraken (based on the legendary creature) and Wraith (which seems to be a monster with weird powers that was the result of human experiments gone wrong).

Those are just 3 monsters, but there could be a lot more of them coming in the future and that sparks the imagination to a point where we find ourselves thinking about other monsters that could appear in the game. For now let's see 3 of them.

Note: Don't take these as full featured ideas. They are just a imaginative glimpse of what it could be if these monsters were in fact included in the game.

Dark Unicorn

Story for the monster:
The Unicorn could be a mutation caused by the dumping of chemicals and radioactive materials caused by an accident on a forest facility. The creature would be born of these mutations as the local fauna got contaminated. This creature would obviously look nothing like the mythical one as it will be twisted and deformed and its horn could have a form different from what we are used to see.

The Map:
An open facility found in a dense forest. This forest would be most likely covered in fog and will have places where the contamination is just too bad for humans to go in. This map would have several human outposts and natural places like a basin and a small system of caves to help the humans move around dangerous areas. In the human outpost there would have some devices that could be temporarily activated to help keep the Unicorn at bay or even hunt it down.

The Monster:
Unicorn would have its original equine form (horse-like features) with one big horn as the mythical Unicorn does. It would have blinding speed and use this horn to impale its unlucky victims. The creature would also use its hind legs to kick hunters and send them flying and lay on the ground (like a sleeping horse) to hide in the foliage. Unicorn would get even faster as it evolves and would get new powers like throwing lightning out of its horn and been able to jump and do a lunge attack. When the Unicorn gets to its highest level it would be able to use its own grown body to damage its opponents by just running through them without having to use its horn.

Notable Abilities: 
Fast speed, stealth

Monster cons:
It becomes vulnerable when failing to hit with a horn or lunge attack, questionable defense.

Hunter Strategy:
When hunters are pitted against Unicorn they should focus on slowing him down a little so they can damage it. They do so by using some left over mechanisms that are found on the human outposts in the forest. Humans could use the small cave systems to move around, but would not be able to camp there because toxic fumes would fill these passageways from time to time. So they have to move fast and set a perimeter on these mechanisms so they can trap the Unicorn in some sort of time continuum breaking laser barrier that will slow the creature down a bit. They will also have to protect the mechanism from been destroyed by the Unicorn because once it is gone, they will have to hunt the creature while it is a full speed for the rest of the fight.



Story for the monster:
The Hydra would the result of thousands of years of artificial inter-species breeding of aquatic and terrestrial animals. Human scientists were basically playing with genetics until this beast was conceived and escaped the controlled environment, hiding in the deepest parts of a giant lake. Several years later the Hydra resurfaced and caused a disaster on a special facility that was built on this giant lake. Now humanity has lost everything that they have learned on this research because the creature doesn't let anybody to get near the facility so that is when hunters come in.

The Monster:
The Hydra would be the walking/swimming type looking sort of like a dragon with multiple heads. It would start as something big, but not that menacing to the hunters. It would be able to swim really fast underwater and shoot toxic or fire out of its heads. On land it would be a lot slower, but would be able to attack with its tail in addition to the toxic/fire attack. As it evolves it would be able faster on land, learn a third attack from its heads that could be a water blast or something similar and also be able to do lots of damage by biting with its heads. On its final evolution it would become huge and be able to ram the platforms on the lake so hunters would have to be very careful of where they step in. It is also important to say that the creature would breathe oxygen from the surface, so it cannot just stay in the water for too long.

Notable abilities:
Proficient at swimming, abnormal body size, good defense.

Monster cons:
Slow speeds while on land.

The Map:
The map would be a facility that goes around the whole lake with several "pads" on the lake itself. These pads would provide long distance harpoons that can be used to strike the creature down. On the facilities around the lake, the creature would have several spots to get out of the water and into the facility itself as well as tunnels to get back to the lake.

Hunter Strategy:
The strategy here is to be able to keep the creature at bay long enough to be able to use the harpoons. The effort really involves the whole team because this creature can cause a lot of damage especially when on its final evolution where it can ram the pads and throw hunter to the water where they are easy pray. First, they have to activate the harpoons by restarting the generators inside the facility, then they have to run to the pads as fast as they can and coordinate an attack.

Alien Queen

Xenomorphs (Alien Queen)

Story for the monster:
Many of you know what Xenomorphs are like, but in case you didn't know they are a vicious alien species featured in the Alien movies as well as the Alien vs Predator ones. The explanation of this creature appearing in Evolve could be something as simple as to say that a human colony ship was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case a player will play as an Alien queen that is pregnant and stuck in the middle of the map, sending its children to protect her.

The Monster:
On this case the player would be able to use different types of Xenomorphs, each with their own attacks. In the beginning, the alien queen will just be able to use the common Xenomorph that everybody knows, but as it "evolves" it will be able to use stronger types that will make things more difficult for the hunters. In case her minions fail to stop the hunters and they get too near, she would have her own attacks that she can use to defend herself until the hunters get far enough for minions to be effective again. Her minions can also damage the self destruct mechanisms by throwing acid at them and that would force hunters to fix them, giving the queen a break to pick them off. The cool thing with the alien queen is that the player will be able to have up to 3 minions roaming the place at the same time and would be able to switch them at will. When a minion is not been used it would have a normal A.I that will keep them roaming the place, but will be completely open to attacks.

Notable abilities:
Send up to 3 minions to do her bidding, her own attacks are quite strong

Monster cons:
Not been able to find and stalk the hunters in time could make it very easy for them.

The Map:
A human space colony that is now a wreck as the Xenomorphs have claimed it. It would have several corridors and rooms including air ducts and sewage disposal tunnels. The Alien queen would be right at the middle of the map and from that point it would be able to send her minions to protect her. The map would have 3 places where the colony's self destruct mechanism can be activated as well as places where hatches can be opened, sending any unlucky fellow (hunter or creature) to the vacuum of space. These hatches can be activated by either human or creature.

Hunter Strategy:
The main objective is to destroy the alien queen and this can be done in one of two ways. The hunters can tackle the queen head on in quick attack patterns until it is destroyed or try to activate the self destruct sequence and get out of there as quick as they can. It is a test of speed and consistency because the team would have to be very fast and precise on what they are doing or else the queen will get the upper hand and overwhelm them.

These are the 3 creatures folks, but if you have any other ideas you can share them on the comments section below as imagining stuff about a game is always fun. If Evolve manages to give us lots of creatures and also lots of hunters, it will be an epic experience.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Popular vs Niche - The Gang War Of Gaming

As with everything that is made for sale in this world, a video game can become the hottest thing around, get a cult following or just pass through as if it was never released. The problem that this poses to the gaming community is that it has divided a significant part of the community in two "gangs". One of these groups are the ones that are so pro corporate that they will accept anything that gaming companies throw at them and will say that it is good, because it is popular and successful. The other group see themselves as some kind of terminator movie style resistance that refuses to support anything that has reached the millions just because it is "too mainstream and dumb". Been these two groups the way they are, let's just call them "corpies" and "hips".

Some of my older articles would seem to imply that I somewhat support the "hips", but the truth is that I think that both of these groups are stupid and I will proceed to take them apart one at a time.

Corporate Gamer

The Corpies
This type of gamer is the one that will become a fan boy of whatever the companies make without using any common sense in their judgement, becoming sort of the "yes men" and "yes women" of the gaming community . You will find corpies as been the ones who spend tons of money for useless (and most of the time unfair) DLC content, applauding when ever a game franchise gets simplified to a point where it is no longer fun (Resident Evil, The Soul Calibur series, etc) and will cringe at the very thought of anything (like characters, storyline or references) that came before 2006 (for them that stuff is "weird"). These people believe that everything that is decided by the big shots in business suits is a good thing and classify it as the "evolution of gaming" without giving it any thought whatsoever.

What is wrong with them.
The very first aspect where the corpies drop the ball is in giving gaming companies the chance to do whatever they want, regardless of what gamers think. By pouring money into everything, they have given the impression that the corporate people behind the games we play are doing the right thing every single time, while in reality some of their decisions are just awful. Second thing they do wrong is to trash entire gaming franchises just because it is a dated concept (I am not implying that we should force them to like some games in particular, but if you see how some corpies express themselves on many gaming media sites you will understand what I mean). The worst thing been that they do this even if the game in question is still fun to play, which makes no sense and tells us that this type of gamer has been enslaved by trends.

The funniest thing is that the corpies do in fact go into some kind of berserk mode where they defy they corporate masters, but they do it for the most trivial of things. If a game is delayed by a day, if the game servers for some game had any kind of problem, if some DLC content will not be released or if a game has less resolution and frame rate than maximum capacity, they could start a flaming war that can surpass even the most rabid "hip". They focus their energies on the "I paid money" premise and forget that game development is not an easy thing to do and all sorts of things can and will happen as the gaming community gets bigger and more difficult to please, especially when they are dealing with new technology.

Hipster Gamer

The Hips
This side of the war is composed by gaming hipsters in denial. They are like some "virtuoso" musicians that say that simpler music genres suck because "they are too easy" and will try to impose their arrogant and snub attitude in which they think that they know better than anyone else. This is the type of gamer that will limit him/herself to playing only what he/she considers to be in their small scope of worthiness and will not give a chance to anything that looks too popular or "mainstream" to them. They believe that if many people play it, it is because the game is too dumb for them.

What is wrong with them.
First of all, they are limiting themselves for a stupid reason. The fact that a game has sold really well or has many fans, doesn't mean that it is crappy and simplistic. Good games followed by good marketing often become popular so their criteria is based on sheer prejudice. It is true that some franchises have gone the casual way and have basically gone bad from the inside out, but this is not always the case and "hips" must realize that. In fact, some of the old school games that they seem to favor have been pretty popular on their day, so like some friends like to say... Their argument is invalid.

Another thing about the hips that defeats their own purpose is that they sometimes remain silent even when some of their favorite games get released. They like to talk a lot about hardcore gaming, but many times when a hardcore game comes, they don't put their money where their mouths are and just let it breeze by, just to complain and whine at a later time when the franchise gets canned because of low sale numbers.

Videogames press start and play

Whoever of them wins, we lose...
Both of these "gamer gangs" are the two sides of gaming gone wrong. One of them just lets game companies to whip them like this was some sort of weird corporate bondage and the other ones act like gaming needs to have these "elite gamer" rules that imply that we only should play like 40% of the whole gaming market, because based on their criteria, popularity = low quality. We need to stop looking to the extremes and just be a gamer, playing whatever, whenever you want, just like it used to be. We don't need rules, we don't need to be classified...We just need to pick up a game and have fun with it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

5 Things That Are A Drag To The Gaming Industry

The gaming business is really thriving nowadays (some even saying that it is growing four times as fast as the U.S Economy), but if we take it from a research and development point of view, it has become stagnant in many ways and for a number of reasons. Today we are going to see 5 of those reasons why the video game industry is dragging its feet from a technological and innovative stand point. It is important to say that there are still good games and good business practices, but the bad ones you are going to see on this article are starting to become a real drag, so let's see.

Games with less features
1) Reckless technical advancements (this for that)
We all know that several game publishers are their own version of Mr.Crabs from Sponge bob, so they will do anything if it means them saving some money. Been things like this, it means that sometimes when a game gets the modern tech treatment it doesn't really improve, but changes priorities. For example one game that gets to have the most advanced graphics up to date, can become really short, have its content to be dumbed down or suffer from crippling bugs and glitches. All this because they so often focus on novelty trends and not on the aspects of what makes good game. It is a known fact that everything in a business runs within the so called "Iron Triangle", but if they can't bend the triangle, then they should at least make a stronger effort in order to maintain the quality of their products while working within its constraints.

Fanboy spotted

2) Fan boys frozen in carbonite.
Let's get something out of the way first. Designers and developers do make mistakes and most of the time need a healthy dose of user feedback, but the ones we are talking about are not feedback providers but fan boys that loved one iteration of a game and will stay with it for all eternity, frozen in time. This type of fellow is the one that whenever a new iteration of their favorite game comes out, it doesn't matter how much their creators tried to bring new things and innovate, for them it is just awful and "lacks the excellency of the original". The games and communities that feature this kind of obsessed gamer will not be mentioned, but if you are one of them you will know and will probably be looking at the screen like this. Be aware that this isn't the same as wishing some game genres to return or stop changing for the sake of change, because the one we are talking about is more about specific games and not the whole spectrum.

3) The "a game per year" business.
The moment when companies decided to spawn some of their big franchise games on a yearly basis was the moment when quality started to go down. This is when some bad practices started to become the norm, with things like recycling the same resources year after year, making the games to be shorter and over-simplified and/or refusing to make new engines in order to make use of the latest technologies. All of these wrong doings need to stop and for that to happen we need to stop giving money to them in exchange for a half-done job. Feeding these yearly franchises not only sets gaming innovation back, but also gives an incentive to gaming companies to stop caring about new projects and concepts and stay hidden in their comfort zone. Luckily for us, sale numbers have shown that the success of franchises that are stuck in this business model is starting to go down, so it seems like the gaming community is waking up on this one.

4) The Imitation Game
Some gaming studios and companies (including some of those who used to be fan favorites) have just become trend machines and this is very unproductive. If there is something that gaming history has told us is that game market competition is done in showdown style which is 1 vs 1 and not a whole bunch of companies imitating each other and doing the same thing. It is either a showdown or a bunch of games with moderate success with no clear winner, so they should stop trying to mimic what they see as "trendy" because most of the time they won't get to be the underdog who wins it all in the end like in the Rocky movies. This has caused a lot of franchises to lose their focus and their identity in the company's effort to cash in on the success of others, even turning some legendary companies from trusted developer to the laughing stock of the gaming industry. Stick to your guns people, do what you do best and stop trying to be something you are not.

5) Treating games like normal household appliances.
The gaming market is a very complex one that has a lot of variables that need special attention before coming with a product strategy and most companies are ignoring this. Many of these are treating video games as if they were just another household appliance, with the same metrics and marketing strategies and this is awfully wrong. Selling a frying pan will never be the same as selling a console or game, but they are been treated as if they were the same thing because the higher ups in many of these companies don't know anything about games or they lack the passion that is needed to work with them.

A gamer is a very elaborate type of consumer, but these non-gamer business guys in high places seem to think that we are the same person that you would sell a frying pan to. Because of this, they feel like innovation and high quality doesn't have to be the norm because we will buy anything they throw at us. To be fair, the blame doesn't fall entirely on the business people as the gaming community is indeed feeding this practice by buying their products and falling for every one of their tricks (incomplete games, DLC that shouldn't be DLC, pay to win schemes, half baked ideas, limited content, etc). It is kind of hard to understand why so many gamers think this is acceptable as the industry itself takes a hit every time that a "frying pan" type of game has success. Stop giving them incentives for cutting corners!

Wrapping it up
Shifting resources instead of increasing them, fan boys that force developers to do the same thing over and over again, releasing a game per year even if it feels like a copy paste, companies imitating each other and treating a game as if it were something as simple as a frying pan. These things are part of what is making the video game industry to become a slow and procrastinating entity that doesn't improve itself very often because it feels like it doesn't need to. Part of the blame is on gaming companies with their shady schemes and the other part falls on gamers who accept these bad practices. Do we as gamers have to sacrifice so much in order for the industry to survive? The answer is no, so gaming companies should step up to their game and gamers who accept these kinds of blunders need to wake up soon.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

15 Cool Things Sega Could Do Even On Hard Times

Right now we all know what is happening to Sega. They recently reported a loss in profits and for all of us long time fans, the phrase "lost profits" spells certain doom to our favorite Sega franchises. Surprisingly, even with the hardships they are going through they decided to make some good things like localizing the new Yakuza game to the west, and coming with remakes of some of their classic games for the Nintendo 3DS. This is all good, but there are some things that Sega could take advantage from especially now that they decided to focus on the digital market rather than the retail one.

Note: There are links in some of the items on this list so you can see what the mentioned games/concepts are about.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of The Millenium

1) Include Phantasy Star IV in the 3DS remakes: The 3DS is good with JRPGs and if Bravely Default is to be taken as definite proof of that, then it means that the classic JRPG style thrives on this handheld. This is the reason why releasing a completely remade version of Phantasy Star IV is a good choice for them since it is the most popular one of the whole classic rpg wing of the Phantasy Star series.

2) Remaster all 3 Shinning Force 3 Scenarios and release them as digital only: The original Shinning Force formula ended with the 3 scenarios that composed Shinning Force 3, so releasing a digital only remastered edition of all 3 in one would be a good seller not only for Sega fans, but tactic rpg fans everywhere in the world as 2 of those 3 scenarios never made it out of Japan.

3) The return of Shenmue: Be it on any of the 3 home consoles and with the current trend that favors open world games, Shenmue can make a good comeback if they spice up the formula a bit and give it a little more hand to hand combat action and more stuff to do in the cities Ryo visits.

Sega Saturn Astal

4) Astal 2 made by an indie studio: Astal was quite a good platformer in its day and seen how some indie developers have made beautiful games like Braid and Dust: An Elysian Tale, Astal can also shine again and become even better if one of these talented studios takes the project.

5) The release of good arcade game ports into this generation of home consoles: Catering once again to the digital only market, some arcade games like Border Break, Initial D Arcade Stage 8 Infinity or Shinning Force Cross Raid can become addictive online experiences for any western player.

6) "Greatest hits" bundles of Sega Saturn/Dreamcast games: Storage media now permits it and because of this, some of the best games for both of these systems (Saturn and Dreamcast) can come back packaged in bundles sort of like they did with the Genesis games not long ago. Packages like these can find a home on any of this generation consoles or even on PC.

Skies of Arcadia

7) Skies of Arcadia 2: This one can be pretty much a long shot, but why not? Skies of Arcadia is one of the best JRPG games that Sega has ever made and it could be a hit, considering that the JRPG market has been starving for good epic titles for current-gen home consoles in the west.

8) Sonic Adventure 3: This is not a matter of nostalgia, but a matter of the Sonic Adventure series been the most acclaimed Sonic games since the franchise took a plunge into 3D. It doesn't have to be a AAA production, just make it as good as the previous too and it will be ready to go. I know that there is Sonic Boom to take account of, but this kind of endeavor would be something separate and quite capable of healing Sonic the Hedgehog's reputation as a franchise which would in fact help Sonic Boom.

9) Reboot of The Immortal: The Immortal was one of those hard and gruesome rpg games that captivated Sega Genesis owners in the early 90's and it could make a comeback as an alternative to Dark Souls. The game was dark, challenging and interesting and that is something many rpg gamers appreciate nowadays. Just turn it into an action rpg and it could be a hit. The only hard part here is convincing Electronic Arts to take that franchise out of its grave, but hey... It can happen!

Eternal Champions

10) Reboot of Eternal Champions: Gore has been in style again for a while now and Eternal Champions provided just that to fighting game fans in the past, even rivaling the all time favorite Mortal Kombat. A reboot of this once great fighting game could be released as a digital only game with an emphasis on competitive play. Give a short single player mode in order to show the character's storylines and let gamers destroy themselves online with all the gruesome moves and fatalities that this franchise can offer.

11) An Anime Series for any of their RPG game series: Going away from gaming a little and getting into anime, a good anime series can be possible with many of Sega's franchises and could even serve to promote a game. Phantasy Star is a very good candidate, but there could be others like Climax Landers, Legend of the Oasis, Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragoon Saga. Why a series from an RPG game? Because their stories are richer and would make for quite an interesting anime experience if done right. Sega worked as a publisher for Bleach so it is safe to say that they would know what to do.

12) Bring remastered versions of obscure titles of their popular franchises: When we think about obscure Sega games that most people haven't seen, it means games like Virtual-On Marz and Project Altered Beast which were PS2 games that were... You guessed it, only in Japan. Virtual-On Marz featured a deeper storyline which was a contrast when we compare it to its arcade style only predecessors and Project Altered Beast was a mix between adventure and survival horror that gave it a sci-fi twist to the franchise.

Sega Characters

13) Their own game portal: This is an alternative to #7 and can be even better in some ways. If there is one thing that we can't deny is that Sega as a company has a lot of first party games, even surpassing Nintendo in this endeavor. Because of this, a cool thing for them to do is to make a PC game portal, sort of like Steam and pour all of their forgotten games there while letting people play online multiplayer with them. A place where you could find and play all the first and second party Sega games from the Master System to the Dreamcast and even games that appeared on other consoles. They could sell them separately or make it a pay per month service, it doesn't matter as this could become a big hit for them anyways.

14) Get a spokesperson character again: This is something that they tried in the past and had success because of it, so they need to stop been so silent and go make some noise in the industry. A good personality that can move an effective passive-aggressive marketing campaign can make all the difference in the world. If you don't believe me ask Nintendo how well Reggie has worked for them. Just to give you a short trip to the past, back when the Saturn was going head to head against the PS One, Sega managed to keep their console alive and kicking in Japan mostly because of their spokesperson character, which was an exaggerated version of a karate master that was called Segata Sanshiro.

15) Give some love to the west: No matter which of the previous 14 things in this list Sega makes, if it is stuck in Japan it wont serve them. Their current "stay in Japan and sometimes Europe" strategy has proven to be a failure and their financial reports are proof of this. Whatever they do next, they must include the west in it because it is a market that is slowly going old school again, so after its long absence, Sega could return and once again earn the prestige that they used to have. They just need to try and for once hear the fans out, yes those fans that have been left in the dark since the Dreamcast went down.

Sega Logo

Wrapping it up:
The bottom line is that even though Sega is having a hard time right now, this doesn't mean that they can't make an effort to bounce from that. This list features some of the cool things they could do that could mend their torn reputation and even though some of them look difficult or even idealistic, they are possible and sometimes it just takes a fair amount of risk taking in order to make it big as real visionaries are a step ahead of everybody all the time. Most gamers have Sega strands on their gamer's DNA so they just have to look for a way to unleash all the hidden potential, especially from the fans.

What is your favorite item of the list? What other cool things you think that Sega could do? If you have any ideas share them with us in the comment section below.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Unstable World Of Gaming Criticism

Since the very first post was published on this blog, Most of the articles roam around gaming topics that can be looked at an angle. It is sort of like one of those strange gaming conversations that you most likely have with some of your friends from time to time. If you have been following the articles you may have noticed that there is a little bit of everything except direct judgement over games and there is a good reason for it. The reason behind this decision is that direct gaming criticism is something that has lost its accuracy and neutrality, becoming a weird thing that is very unpredictable and tends to steer gamers towards loving or hating a game instead of sparking a sense of critical thinking. Following this line of thought and to support my previous statement, I will today show you how unstable the world of gaming criticism really is.

Note: This is NOT an anti-reviewer stance. I respect their work and acknowledge them as good sources of information. This article is all about game criticism from a neutral perspective and not meant as direct criticism to anybody.  

Game Characters Time

Time is an all powerful force.
Time is the one thing nobody can escape from and this is especially true with games and more specifically game criticism and public opinion. As time passes, the gaming industry changes and gets to favor some trends over others. Because of this, a game concept that would had been considered perfect 10 years ago, could find itself struggling for acceptance in this day and age. On the other hand, concepts that were ignored or underrated in the past could come up as great contenders on our present time if they are properly presented. This means that time is influential when somebody criticizes a game, but not all of us are devout followers of the latest trends so our opinions may greatly differ. One of our beloved franchises from the past can get destroyed nowadays the same way that concepts that we didn't liked in previous eras can become superstars overnight. In both cases we should try them before we say anything because the industry's collective thinking doesn't necessarily has to be our thinking.

Eat Sleep Game

Daily life makes all the difference in the world.
Is your life really busy or are you still in that blissful point in where you can still eat-sleep-play like there is no tomorrow? Regardless of your answer, you know that this is something that can change your perception of games and the same thing happens to critics. Most of them live busy lives even if all of their work is game related. This may have an impact in how they see certain games as their personal time for gaming may lead them to have a slight bias toward some experience over others. Some people can be comfortable with complex games and 60+ hour epics, others prefer simpler games in the average 12-15 hour range while some others are more into the "just play online until I get tired of it" attitude which obviously focuses on the online multi-player element of gaming. What all of this means is that the type of life the critic is having at the time of passing judgement over a game may not be the same as yours, so once again opinions may differ.

Gaming Pleasing Everybody

Personal taste and when biases collide.
Everybody has their own taste for gaming and this causes a lot of controversy when criticizing a game. A good game critic is obviously someone who loves games, but at the same time it is inevitable for them to have their favorite genres, platform, styles and concepts. The thing is that not every experience will be a sweet ride through one of their favorites as some times they will be stuck with games that are not part of their most favored ones. When this happens we know that most of them try to be as neutral as possible, but in the end anybody who has good reading comprehension skills can notice if they love the game or they are just in a kind of "meh" mood while playing it. The most important thing about this aspect is to be aware that their taste in gaming may not be the same as yours, so be wary of this before accepting or discarding a game after reading a review.

Dandy Mott Hates a Game

Trolls and whiner goblins.
When a game is announced and/or released, any one of you will able to find a great deal of information about it, but other than professional game criticism is the overall opinion of the gaming community itself through forums, comment sections on articles and social networks, so now we are not focusing on a lone critic, but the community itself. The problem here is that while there are a lot of people who write their concerns in a civilized manner, there are others that are just trolling, hating or just pouting over the simplest of things and when these kind of picturesque characters get too high in numbers they may give the wrong impression and lead many people to discard a game without even trying it. It is kind of understandable to a point, because after all this is your money we are talking about and you wouldn't want to spend it on a bad game, but at the same time you have to learn to spot the whiners and trolls or else you will often find yourself making a bad decision and probably missing out on a game you would had liked if you had used your own criteria.

Einstein on Game Criticism

Wrapping it up
The bottom line about all this is that you as a gamer can't solely rely on external game criticism to make your call about a game. On this article you read about 4 things that make the whole game criticism scene to be influenced by many factors although there are a lot more. I am mostly sure that most of the people reading this blog entry are not the kind of gamer who would let themselves to be led by the opinions of others, but if you are, then the next time you are curious about a game read the review, see how the general public feels, but don't let them choose for you.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A New Nintendo Console - 6 Keys to Victory

There has been a faint rumble recently about Nintendo already working on a new console. This is like the humming sound before the earthquake, so before more news and speculations start to pop up on the net, let's see what are the keys to victory of such a console.

Nintendo Revolution

1) An inspiring name
This was the worst defect that the Wii U had to live with, as most Wii owners thought it was just another version of the same console instead of an entirely new one. This time they need to let go of the family oriented "good guys" approach and focus on making their new console to be seen as something badass. Back when the Wii was still a work in progress, it was pretty popular with its working title that was "Nintendo Revolution". People liked that name a lot, some of them were already calling it "Revo" and other abbreviated versions of the name. Sadly there was a huge sigh of disappointment when Nintendo finally showcased their console and called it Wii, losing part of what made it look like something serious to the public.

Reggie vs Iwata

2) An equally inspiring merchandising effort
We have to admit that Nintendo is already changing the tone of their marketing campaign right now with the Wii U. They don't look like goobers anymore as they are changing and little by little catering more and more to the hardcore crowds (The Reggie vs Iwata fight video is proof of this). Nintendo is finally realizing who their fans are and how these fans feel and react about their games and decisions. Hopefully they learned their lesson and will keep improving their style when promoting their new console.

Mega Mushroom

3) Powerful hardware / bigger console design
It has been said that the Wii U processing power was capped at some point because it made the console to overheat, meaning that they would had to put a bigger and louder cooling system (fans) which was contradictory to the console's overall design. This time around they should drop the small console approach and make it bigger so it can have a cooling system that can handle a bigger amount of power. I am not implying that the new Nintendo console should be as big as an old VCR player, but they should at least try to find the best of both worlds because they need to give Sony and Microsoft a run for their money in terms of power.  

Killer App

4) A definitive game at launch
Coming with a console in the middle of a console generation can be the equivalent of trying to stop a running train by stepping in the tracks and extending your arm, but if Nintendo can give the right impression from the beginning they not only re-introduce themselves in the console race, but also could be able to take down at least one of the giants. One way of re-entering the console war with a bang would be to have a definitive title from the very start. Assuming that the console has enough power, we could have a new entry in the Metroid Prime saga that can blow us away with its visuals, story and even more so if it has VR headset support. They could also join the fray with an RPG from the Xenoblade series or even a big surprise like a Mega Man game (thing that could make Nintendo to take the look of a hero in the eyes of millions of players worldwide). This time around bringing a Super Mario Bros game from the start will not work, if they want to succeed they need to beat the other companies at their game.

Bayonetta 2

5) Keep up the cooperative efforts
Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 are examples of how well cooperative works are for Nintendo. If they can keep that up with the new console, we can expect tons of exclusives that won't be so expensive to make, but can still become instant hits. It is true that sales figures are not off the charts for the two examples I mentioned, but if these games would had been released at launch, the story would had been very different. This type of cooperative endeavor can do many things from reviving dead franchises to making cool spin off games and interesting crossovers. It is a fresh way of making business that can serve Nintendo well if they know how to use it.

Fatal Frame V

6) Open to a worldwide market
This one is very important as it is one of those things that is already limiting the potential of the Wii U. First, the concept of region blocked games has to be ditched in order for the new console to be a good product on an open market. Censorship has no place in gaming as it only serves as a limitation to gamers and as a hindrance to profit. Another thing Nintendo has to improve is the way they deal with Japanese games. They should stop limiting so many of them to Japanese audiences only and start to bring more of those games to the west. Fatal Frame IV and the new Fatal Frame (which is on Wii U) are big examples of this problem, which is a self-defeating posture that must be changed before the new console is released.

Nintendo Logo

Wrapping it up
Nintendo once again has a good chance here, but it will take a lot of effort to actually make it right. Any mistake will prevent them from turning skeptics into believers so they must be careful, but effective. It's all about precision up to this point, so the big N has to take everything they learned with the Wii U and use it in order to become a real competitor once again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall - The Story Starters Guide (No Spoilers)

The first episode of Dreamfall Chapters has been finally released to the joy of adventure game fans world wide. For longtime fans, this game is a real must have, but if you are a newcomer you may find yourself lost in its deep and compelling story if you haven't played the previous installments which were The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Today, as a fan of the series I will try to give you a little insight of what the game is about while doing my best to avoid spoilers, just in case you are curious about this series of games, but have no idea about their story. I am going to try to be as generic as possible so I don't spoil any important details, so you can safely read at your own pace and try the games later if you want.

TLJ Stark and Arcadia

A) The World of The Longest Journey
The whole environment in The Longest Journey series goes back and forth between 2 worlds. The first one is called Stark which is based on reality, reflecting our world with the existence of real cities and the various occurrences of the human lifestyle with a cyberpunk touch, going from the most mundane of things to the most bizarre. On the other hand we have Arcadia, which is a world based on magic. This world looks and feels like your classic medieval fantasy setting consisting of villages, dungeons, exotic places, townsfolk, warriors, priests, warlocks and even dragons. On this world we also have different types of living beings that populate the realm and are not exactly human.

If we are going to name the notable villains in the first two games, we have a giant mega-corporation called Wati-Corp on Stark and a corrupt religious empire called The Azadi on Arcadia. Both of them will try to stop April and Zoe (See characters) from doing what they need to do in order to restore the balance between both worlds, but they are not connected in any obvious way. Giving any more details would spoil the fun of getting to know these crooks up close and personal, but you will see how each of them have their own beliefs / big scheme and how they put their respective plans in motion to basically enslave their corresponding worlds if they can't destroy them.

TLJ Main Characters

B) Characters
The main characters in the series go as follows:
April Ryan
April Ryan: April is the protagonist in the first game (The Longest Journey) and a secondary character in Dreamfall. She starts in the first game as an Art student in that discovers that she has certain powers that enable her to travel into another world. This discovery turns her life upside down as she finds herself in a struggle to save both worlds and ensure that neither of them meets a premature end. She will also discover that she doesn't know herself as well as she thought.

The Draic Kin

The Draic Kin: The Draic Kin are a race of mystical dragons that have the purpose of protecting the balance between worlds without directly interfering. Most of the time they will give messages and remind April of how important she is to both worlds. In some ways the Draic stand as the benevolent and wise gods of Arcadia and can take a human form at will if it serves their purpose.

TLJ Crow

Crow: Simply put, he is a magical crow that talks. He becomes April's friend in the first game and follows up to meet Zoe on Dreamfall. He is kind of corny and throws a lot of bad jokes, but he is also very helpful, giving clues to the both girls when they need them the most.

Zoe Castillo

Zoe Castillo: Zoe is the protagonist of the second game (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey). She is a kind of depressed young woman who is living without any purpose in life. When the game begins she is already having it rough after recently dropping out of college and breaking with her boyfriend Reza. Her life takes a very different turn when in another one of her "dull and event-less" days, something happens that makes her share April Ryan's fate although not through the same means.

Reza Tamiz

Reza Temiz: He is Zoe's ex boyfriend and one of the most mysterious characters in Dreamfall. Based on what it is known about him, he is some sort of a journalist that is involved with Wati-Corp in Stark. We also know that he is involved with the company's secret agenda (been the one that sets in motion the whole ordeal that Zoe lives through) and for some reason he vanishes without leaving a trace.

Kian Alvani

Kian Alvani: Alvani begins a warrior for the Azadi in Arcadia. He is sort of a paladin who fights to defend "The Goddess" which is the main icon of his religion and to destroy a resistance movement that threatens the empire. His faith is admirable, but his iron clad loyalty will become a problem to him as the story progresses and you will see why he is not as great and important as he think he is in the beginning.

TLJ The Vaganond

The Vagabond: This mysterious being lives in a rift between both worlds and seems to serve as a guide to Zoe. This mystic will make few appearances, but will prove instrumental at giving you information about the grand scale of things. See him as a sage who will reveal what needs to be done and why.

There are many other characters in the story of The Longest Journey series, but these ones are the most significant.

Dreamfall April

C) The Story (Synopsis)
In The Longest Journey, the story start as an art student called April Ryan visits Arcadia by mistake and meets the White Dragon (See Draic Kin) who tells her that she is the heroine that will bring balance to both worlds. Just after that, she gets attacked by some dark force called "chaos vortex" and that's when she gets back. That surreal experience turns her world upside down as she discovers that she is a "shifter" (person who can travel between worlds) and begins her quest in her own world (Stark) even when nobody believes what she says. Soon, she starts turning skeptics into believers (mostly her closest friends) and as she gets used to crossing between worlds and begins solving problems on both of them, she becomes a threat to the dark forces that want to destroy the balance between worlds, so they will do whatever is needed to stop her. Her journey will take her to the deepest parts of Stark and Arcadia as she tries to solve the riddle of how she can save the so called "balance", involving her friends, new found allies, the Draic Kin and a magical crow that helps her through her journey.

Next in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, the story shifts to the life of a girl called Zoe Castillo. In the beginning Zoe's life has no purpose or direction as she dropped out of college and broke up with her boyfriend. Living in this predicament leaves Zoe with all the free time she could want, so as her dad leaves to a business meeting in another country she plans to make a party in her house with some of her friends. All seemed well, but while she was organizing the event her ex boyfriend Reza Tamiz appears and asks her to look for an important package in his apartment. Seen that they are still good friends, Zoe agrees, but after getting to his apartment she becomes involved in a big conspiracy that will lead her all the way to Arcadia where she meets an older April Ryan that has become somewhat of a leader in the fight against the Azadi.

Now Zoe who has become her own kind of "shifter", becomes an even more important piece of the puzzle as she struggles against both the Azadi and Wati Corp in the fight that will decide the fate of both worlds.

Dreamfall Chapters

D) The Connection With Dreamfall Chapters
This part of the starters guide has big spoilers so if you really want to read it, click the show button, otherwise play the games first.

Dreamfall Chapters

Wrapping it up
I hope that this little story guide helps to spark your curiosity even more so you can give a chance to this great series of adventure games. I wouldn't suggest you to skip the previous games and just start on the new one, but I'd be glad if this little insight into the story of The Longest Journey series of games gets you on the right track so you can understand what you will be seen and experiencing in Dreamfall Chapters.