Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ghost Strands - A Comic series worth checking

I know I mostly write about video games and life as a gamer, but sometimes I like to dwell in other venues of related entertainment like anime and comics because sometimes they just go together in the mind of any gamer. Now because of that, today I'm going to talk about a comic book series that really got my attention. It was brought to me by a friend and it seems like it will be a very interesting series once it gets officially published. Wanna know what I'm talking about? Keep reading my friend.

Ghost Strands

Ghost Strands (website)
Presented by: Monkey Man Labs
Published by: Rotten Apple Comics
Written by: Allyn Jensrud
Art by:  Erik Lervold
Genres and themes: Noir, Mystery, Paranormal, Crime, Action

Ghost Strands story goes around a seemingly normal guy called Jack (who has a very big problem paying his debts and avoiding getting into new ones) that is suddenly stalked by a long haired mysterious man in a trench coat (Hellsing style). This man seems to know everything about Jack and he gives him the obligation of successfully completing certain "missions" or else his life will be taken. The first mission that is assigned to Jack by the mysterious man seems like a simple one, but the circumstances could not be worse as it is a matter of life and death and Jack is just stuck at a bar while the clock is ticking.

If you want to know what happens next I suggest you get the first comic book issue when it goes on sale, but if you need to have a tip about it, let's say that the line between failure and success gets really thin, as Jack has certain mix ups that put him in quite a tough spot. Will he complete his mission in time or will he fail and die as a result? That is for you to discover.

Ghost Strands

The first impression you will probably get when reading this comic series is that of a simple noir story, but once the mysterious man appears it goes the way of mystery as lots of questions will begin flooding your mind while you continue reading. Those could be questions like:

Who is the man with the coat? Why does he forces Jack to do stuff for him?
Why is that man so certain that he can just kill Jack that easily?
How will Jack deal with this sort of ordeal?

I have my own theories about it, but I will let you make your own after you read it. This is the kind of comic book story that has a really big potential of growing and expanding into its own little universe as it has all the needed elements like a big enough setting and a strong argument that has a lot of unknown details that can be uncovered little by little.

Ghost Strands

The art in Ghost Strands is another thing that I found to be pretty cool. The colors used and the style implemented in the drawings give it a noir feeling from the get go and even on scenes that happen outdoors, it manages to keep the gloomy and mysterious mood going. Some of the expressions they gave to the characters are like a tell tale sign about the world surrounding Jack been one full of people with strange agendas and even stranger happenings. In summary, the art direction taken by Erik Lervold gives the correct look and sets the best mood for the story, which is one of the most important things in any story driven work of art.

Could Ghost Strands be a video game?
Yeah I know, I'm always putting video games on everything, but hey I can't help but think about how a series like this would look with the art and gameplay style of Telltale games. It does have the mystery and the action, so yeah my gamer sense is tingling with mental pictures of how could this be and I am really liking what my mind is seeing. We should see more of these kind of stories in the gaming scene, as they are interesting and engaging, Well... I guess I just love these kind of plots and I know many of you do so too.

Ghost Strands

Wrapping it up
There you have it folks. It has been a long time since I last started reading a comic book series, but this one has sparked my interest again so I recommend it to you people. If you are a fan of comic books, you should check this one out as it has the makings of a cool and mystery filled story, sort of like a noir story that feels like manga, but reads like an American comic book which is quite a nice mix. I currently don't have the final publishing date for this comic book series, but I will be sure to share it with you people as soon as I get it, so stay tuned.

Bonus Stage!
As an extra I would like to mention another on going comic series. This one is called The Red Calaveras (also drawn by Erik Lervold) and very much like Ghost Strands, it seems to be quite cool. The series already has a lot of scenes posted on it's website, so once I get to read them all I will make a review about it, be sure of it.

If you want to go to the Red Calaveras site, click HERE.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Don't know what Shenmue is? Then check this out.

Another one of the big bombs that were detonated in the Sony E3 conference this year was another heavily expected game and that game is Shenmue 3. Now, other than the tons of articles about how it is getting funded at a machine gun pace (3.1 millions in 2 days and counting), you most probably don't know a thing about Shenmue as a gaming franchise. Now going forward from the premise that you decided to read this article in order to know what the fuss is all about, I am going to shed some light on what Shenmue is, while answering some the most asked questions about it.

Shenmue main art

A little background...

Shenmue was supposed to be the Dreamcast killer app back in the year 2000. It is Sega's most expensive and riskiest project to date, costing the whopping amount of 70 million dolars (99 million on our present time). The game had a lot of promotion and at the time it was something we never had before. The game was super innovative in a lot of ways and it presented the very first detailed open world experience in any video game. An interesting note to the first Shenmue is that the game was going to be released on Sega Saturn, but Sega then decided to move it to the Dreamcast as the Saturn was beginning to lose the fight against the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64.

Shenmue (Saturn vs Dreamcast)

If the game was so good, then why did it only achieved "moderate to low" success?

Shenmue didn't do as bad as some people may have you believe. The real problem was that the production values were sky high and while many copies were sold, too many people just played it for free (a.k.a illegal copy of the game), which was one of the gravest problems that the Dreamcast had at the time. To give you an insight on how bad this problem was for Shenmue, imagine that Grand Theft Auto V (which costed 265 million dollars to make and promote) was just pirated away and played by a really big percentage of the gaming scene without paying a cent. As awesome as the game is, it would still have problems selling and that's what happened to Shenmue. it sold decently, but not enough to justify the productions costs.

The game's sequel (Shenmue 2) was not even available for North American Dreamcast owners and to make matters worse, Grand Theft Auto III was already there taking up all the attention on the more popular and successful PlayStation 2. In the end, Shenmue 1 and 2 were just victims of bad decisions and bad luck.

Shenmue Ryo Nozomi

So what was the game about?

Shenmue was all about playing on an open world that had little to none generic aspects. You had the main protagonist Ryo Hazuki on his quest for vengeance against an evil Kung Fu master called Lan Di that killed his father and stole their precious family relic, but instead of just running around killing tons of bad guys and/or just playing a lot of fetching quests, you had to basically live the world as close to real life as it was. Not only you had to investigate about the Lan Di by talking to people and gathering clues, but you had to train in order to learn new moves and become stronger as you also had the chance to explore a lot of places as the story progresses.

Talking of exploration, as you go by the different towns and places in the game, Ryo can find all sorts of things to interact with, play mini-games, earn collectibles, fight some foes and find martial arts masters that can teach him new moves. He can also do other things like getting a job, making some bets and meeting lots of people all around town. To summarize it all, Shenmue is a game with a linear main quest, that is set on an open world that lets you advance at your own pace.

Shenmue's fighting style is very similar to this.

So Ryo is a martial artist... Cool, but when does he fight?

The game uses the same fighting system as Virtua Fighter (Ryo is kind of similar to Akira) and fights are almost entirely dependent on the story of the game. If the story puts you in a bad neighborhood you will get into fights, both in Virtua Fighter fashion (on the first Shenmue there is even an endurance fight where Ryo and an Ally have to beat 100 guys in a row) and on quick time event sequences. Keep in mind that this game is not a grind fest (unless you spent hours throwing kicks and punches at the air on training sessions) so enemies are not abundant, but when they appear you are sure to have some fun kicking their asses.

So we have covered it all, background, exploration and action. Now we are ready to begin...

Wrapping things up

In summary, Shenmue is your alternative open world experience. It plays sort of like a sandbox game, but it feels like a mix between a simulation of daily life and an martial arts movie. The game really captures the feeling of that kind of flick and turns it into a game that is full of different feelings and moods. It is a really easy experience to get immersed into by combining a lot of different aspects into one, while giving it a cinematic feeling. Don't be fooled by what cynics can say and give this game a chance, especially with the third one coming up on 2016.

Shenmue 3

Shenmue 3 Kickstarter Campaign
If you would like to have the best game that Shenmue 3 can be, be sure to back it on Kickstarter. Right now, as I write this article it has reached 3.1 millions dollars and while this is a very good amount, we need to make sure that the game's funding goes full circle so that Yu Suzuki can make the most out of his efforts and with the help of Sony deliver to us the awesome sequel we have been waiting for so long.

If you want to see what this kickstarter campaign is all about, click HERE.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Final Fantasy 7 Remake: The Hard Challenges Ahead

Most of us were astounded when the very much acclaimed remake was finally announced at the Sony E3 conference, but after all the celebration I know many of us started thinking about it and began asking ourselves "How are they specifically going to do this?". The question comes from the fact that all of the Final Fantasy games in the 90's were more about design and style than graphics, so if this is to be a remake... What hurdles will they have to go over in order for this remake to be as good as we expect it to be? That question sets a chain reaction of doubts like the ones you will see below.

Final Fantasy 7 Turn based battle

To be turn based or not to be?

The first thing that most likely passed through the mind of many fans is the fighting system. Back in the day Final Fantasy 7 was all about classic turned based combat, but in today's day and age Square Enix isn't so comfortable with it anymore. Ever since Final Fantasy XI Online, they have been transitioning from turn based to a more action oriented approach, only giving Final Fantasy XIII and XIII 2 a shot at the old school style just to turn it back into action based again with Lighting Returns. What Square Enix will do with a game as big as Final Fantasy 7 is anybody's guess, but if I had to give a definitive answer I would say that they will stick to turn based, but try to mix it up somehow or at least make it look fresh. They can't just go full action rpg on the game because then they would have to sacrifice a lot of depth that the game needs to be as epic as the original one, but hey that's just my humble opinion.

Final Fantasy 7 world map

Scaled world map or something more realistic?

The world in Final Fantasy 7 is really big for a linear game, but the way it is connected has a lot to do with how fun it is to explore. Back in the day, the scaled world map not only served for grinding purposes, but also for finding hidden events and secrets that ranged from simple stuff like finding a hidden item to whole scenarios like Fort Condor. Now the people at Square Enix have to be thinking on how to do this without it looking dated. They know that they need a way for players to go from place to place, but they can't really go fully realistic (or with a boring menu based system) here because that will basically slash away 30% of the game. I know that this is a remake and it does not have to be a carbon copy of the original one, but in this aspect they will need to be really smart or else they will break the whole thing.

Final Fantasy 7 Materia System

Materia system...Simplified?

The materia system is one of the most fun skill systems in any JRPG. It is kind of complex when you try it for the first time, but as you get good at it you will find all sorts of crazy materia combinations while you look for one that gives you an edge in battle. Now in the world we live in today, a system as complex as this can be a turn down for many players that could lack the time or patience to efficiently work with it, so it is quite possible that the developers of this remake are already thinking of ways to re-engineer the materia system in order to cater to both the fans and curious new players. There is also a chance that the system will be split in two, with the original version for fans of the game and a simpler version for anybody that feels like the materia system is too complex for them. A third and very distinct possibility is to re-make the whole system, but I personally see that as very unlikely.

Final Fantasy 7 Junk Heap Dungeon

Is dungeon complexity at risk?

One of the best things in Final Fantasy 7 was how good the dungeon and explorations parts where. From climbing through a mountain of junk and storming into a giant government building, to a Japanese styled tower and even a running train in a collision path, the way in which we experienced all of these places was very dynamic and had a lot of essence to it because they all were unique. Now the problem begins when translating all of those places from pre-rendered environments to full 3D ones. Will we be able to explore Don Corneo's mansion at will, peeping into every room? (Don't look at me like that, I know everybody will do that). Will we be able to invade the Shinra building in the same way we did in the original game with all the different paths and details to find? Will exploration in dungeons and places be as good as the original or will we find ourselves running through generic versions of these places? Square Enix has to give a lot of attention to this issue because it is not only about looking pretty, but also feeling like we are playing through a broader and enhanced version of the memorable places we used to know.

Final Fantasy 7 Golden Saucer

Are mini games and micro events at risk?

Final Fantasy games in the 90's were linear yes, but they had such a great variety of micro events and small stuff to do that they almost felt like they weren't. So how can Square Enix bring this to the remake? I know we are all hoping that they do so just like they did back then in the Square Soft days, but there's a possibility that they could take the lazy path and just throw a bunch of QTE events which is scary for any Final Fantasy fan out there and even more so when such a big game like this has a 2017 release date. Will they be hard pressed to sacrifice some of the awesome stuff that mini games and micro events added to the game or will they grind up, rise to the challenge and give us all the neat stuff? That my friends, is just a matter how much they want this game to succeed.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake E3 2015

Wrapping it up

Will these challenges be conquered? Nobody knows...

The Final Fantasy 7 remake shows a lot of promise and has put all of our imaginations to work, but we also have to be aware that this is a big time production and a very long game. Let's just hope that they have been working on this for a long while now, or at least enough for it to be as loyal to the original as possible while giving us that little extra that the original couldn't on the technology we had back then. For now let's just hope and see because if the house of Final Fantasy does well in all of the previously mentioned challenges, we will be well on our way to one of the most epic games ever.

Bonus Stage!

Here I share you people, a video made by a friend of mine with his impressions of the FF7 remake reveal. It's really simple, but straight to the point.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Game Doctrine E3 Special

Game Doctrine is a little side project I have been working up with a friend and what better way to introduce our little wacky antics than I showing you our E3 special. If you don't understand some aspects of this episode you can look for previous ones so you can see what it is all about, hope you all enjoy it.

Game Doctrine is shaping up to be a channel that mixes up gaming discussion and criticism with a simple storyline and lots of extras that will be added as we go. I know we have a lot to improve, but we are working to make this a better channel and have lots of ideas that we will be implementing in the future. If you liked the video then help us out by liking, subscribing and sharing the video as it will be of great motivation to us.