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.