Written Word

UK Store Has Bloodbourne Swag Available for Pre-Order

An online video game themed merchant, Merchandise Monkey has announced that they now have Bloodbourne themed t-shirts and a poster for pre-order. The selection includes 4 different t-shirts and single poster all with the title “Bloodbourne” prominently displayed are available to pre-purchase now for their release on May 5th. 

You can pre-order the product over at Merchandise Monkey

Bungie to Live Stream Destiny House of Wolves Expansion

Tomorrow (Wednesday April 29th) at 1PM Central, Bungie is hosting a live stream on Twitch where they plan on showing off the new weekly competitive multiplayer event called “Trials of Osiris” which will be featured during the House of Wolves Expansion. According to Bungie, “The more wins your team accumulates, the greater your rewards, which include Osiris-themed, endgame gear” 

You will be able to view the Twitch stream once it has gone live here . 

A new trailer was also released to announce this twitch stream. 

Destiny Expansion II: House of Wolves, will be available on Tuesday May 19th.

Upon viewing the new trailer, Drewby commented that it was “just more Destiny”. 

Batman: Arkham Knight New Trailer AND DLC Announcement

Yesterday, April 25th a new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer was released showing off some familiar faces. Gordon, Nightwing, and Catwoman are among the cast revealed in this trailer which focuses on Batman’s various allies.

Today, the plans for the Arkham Knight DLC were revealed. In addition to the game costing $60 at launch, they are also releasing a $40 season pass which will include access to content doled out over a 6 month period of time. According to Rocksteady the content will include “new story missions, additional super-villains invading Gotham City, legendary Batmobile skins, advanced challenge maps, alternative character skins, and new drivable race tracks.” There will also be a separate version of the game called the “Premium Edition” that will include all DLC. 

When Batman: Arkham City released in 2011, the game was criticized for its DLC of the optional Catwoman content available on release day. We will see how this news is received  by the fanbase. Recently season passes have become more accepted by the general public but public opinion could be beginning to shift back to lack of satisfaction with products they perceive as unfinished.

Batman: Arkham Knight is scheduled to be released on June 23, 2015 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. 

When I inquired Drewby’s thoughts on the trailer, he responded with, “I didn’t get as hyped as you might htink [sic]”

Just Cause 3 Looks Like Prettier Just Cause 2

Just Cause 3, the sequel to 2010’s Just Cause 2 is shaping up to be more of the same insanity that made us love that game in the first place. The reveal trailer, posted this morning shows us Rico windsuiting, shooting, driving, and of course grappling various vehicles in the craziest manners. It is slated for holiday 2015 on the Xbox One, PS4, and PC (Via Steam)

Drewby’s comments on the trailer – “it’s just crazy just cause gameplay” and “i didn’t see anything that got me super pumped or anything”

What is Tabletop RPG?

In the modern era, video games are becoming an accepted practice that spans all demographics with all sorts of styles. The term “video game” spans everything from Farmville, Candy Crush, and Angry Birds to Gone Home, Battlefield, and Bloodbourne. Everybody plays video games, but less people are familiar with the old fashioned table top RPG. I think there is a lot of stigma from history related to games like Dungeons and Dragons that I would like to clear up for people by explaining, at its core, what these games are about. What are they?  What is the draw?

What is a tabletop RPG? Well, to start it off RPG stands for “Role-playing game”. In recent years, especially to those who are familiar with video games, the acronym is understood, but the concept is foreign. A role-playing game is exactly what it sounds like, but it is more specific than just having a level up system in your game. In a role-playing game, you create a character who you will play as. This character can be (depending on the game) very like, or unlike your self in many ways. Looks, personality, physical attributes, skills and so much more are determined when creating a character. You can put as much detail as you want in to your character as far as his/her backstory, goals or motivations. For some people, acting as a character they create is the draw. The ability to meet with other people and interact with them as a cool fantasy (or other genre) character of their design can be fun and can stir the imagination. For some the mere of playing a role is the draw, but there are other perks as well.

In a tabletop RPG, you do not simply make fictional characters and talk to each other for the fun of it (Though if you would like to, you totally could). Generally speaking they are games of adventure. Each player has a role to play in a greater narrative that is taking place, usually over multiple play sessions. How does that work? Well, one of the players will be the designated “Dungeon Master” which is a nerd-cool sounding term for the person who spins the tale in which the players participate. The dungeon master is given the biggest task in the game which is to create the world where the players will be living during each session of playing. Do you remember that girl from Inception? Her job was to create the worlds of the dreams that Leo and the gang would be hanging out in as well as the scenarios that would be occuring? That’s what the DM does for the rest of the players. He creates scenarios that force the players to interact with each other and with the world and then allows the players to work out each situation, whether it is a puzzle to be solved, a ruined city to be explored, a battle to be fought, a person to be saved or anything else the DM can create in his mind. For my money this creativity is what these old school RPGs have over video games. Video games by nature have a certain selection of choices available to the player at any point, but in a game like Dungeons and Dragons, players can choose to do what they want and the DM simply has to react and spin up additional situations. 

For instance, imagine a scenario where the DM of a particular game has designed a chase with an enemy where he escapes into a forest. A video game would give you a very limited set of options for how to approach the situation, in one of these games, the imagination is the limit! Players could do anything from tracking the villain through the forest (If they think they are up to the task), burning down the forest, enlisting the help of the forest animals to alert the players of where the villain is headed, or anything else that someone might design in their own mind. 

Creativity is what defines this genre. Whether you are talking about the DM and the world he must design, the players and the characters and back stories they create, or the interactions that must take place over each play session between the characters of different races and skill sets, the possibilities are endless. Creative ways to resolve conflict, to socialize with your friends and fictional situations allow for a level of freedom unavailable in other gaming mediums. These play sessions can be as dark as The Walking Dead or as light as Looney Toons, the atmosphere is entirely determined by the people playing and that is the best part about these games. A tabletop RPG is just a creative shell for having fun adventures with friends. Whatever types of adventures you can think of, you can design. 

Mostly I have focused on talking about fantasy themed RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons, but in all actuality, there are versions and rulesets of table top games to suit all genres. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Superheros, Steampunk, Dr. Who, and even generic RPG systems exist so you can create rulesets that best describe whatever theme or subject you happen to want to design. It is entirely up to the players to choose what suits them best. 

This has been a pretty quick and dirty overview of the genre, but I wanted to ignore some of the weird stigmas that can be associated with this stuff and get to the meet of what these games are actually about and why people still like them, even in the digital age. I hope I have helped clear up any confusion you might have and if I haven’t, just leave a comment on this post or email me at michael@thecultureofmypeople.com and I will answer questions related to anything that you might want to know about this genre to the best of my ability. 

Written Appendix: On the Topic of Video Games – Episode 13

— Drewby’s preferred title was “Drewby Might be Right, but I Wish the World Were Different”. I thought that title sucked—

Last night (8-19-2014) we recorded the normal weekly “On the Topic of Video Games” podcast and I brought up a topic that ended up being a bit controversial on the show. Being as I was tired and not the best at forming rational thought on the fly, I thought I should try and clarify what I was trying to say on that show. I’m sure that some of what I said is incorrect and I would like to set the record straight here, as well as sort out the issue in my mind. Judging by what I remember from a late night, my opinion sounded (At least to Drewby) that I was against all remakes, remastered, and ports with a very blurry line of distinction between them. I will attempt to define these terms as best as I can from my mind, and then try and express my thoughts on each of them accurately and individually.

The first term that came up is “remake”. I would define a video game “remake” as a complete overhaul with a new engine and potential additions to a game. A true remake would include things like Golden Eye 007: Reloaded for last generation consoles. That game actually was a complete overhaul of a game that ended up being different than the original in many ways. Dota 2 probably fits here, with a new engine external from the mod scene is started with. Final Fantasy III and IV fit here as well via their 3DS redesigns with a completely new engine. Using the definition I defined, this is the term most incorrectly applied to video games out of these three categories.

In order to correctly understand the term “remaster”, I think I need to establish the term “port” as the majority of remasters are also ports of some kind. A port is a video game previously available on one platform, being designed to be functionally playable on another platform.The majority of games hitting the Playstation Vita are good examples of ports. Games like Fez, Hotline Miami, and Spelunky all released exclusively on PC and have now been made available on the Vita with very little or no functional changes. The graphics quality and controls will very likely remain the same.

In my mind, a remaster is a port of a video game that probably includes a graphical update, uprezzing, or minor gameplay tweaks to improve the quality of the game. Also, more recent remasters include all the DLC of the original video game. “Remaster” is the most vague of the three terms in mind as they vary in the quality of the graphical updates they provide. An example of a remaster includes things like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, The Last of Us: Remastered, and the upcoming Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt. Remasters are the actual category that I tend to sometimes have a problem with in regards to timing and quality.

I think one of my mistakes was overemphasizing how problematic many of the recent remasters are. Eventually in the podcast I had stepped away from logic and skipped straight to “No new videogames will ever be made” which was clearly a straw man to the discussion Drewby and I were having. We have not even gotten close to reaching a point where this is a possibility as of yet. My original argument, that some of the money and time spent on certain remakes could be better spent elsewhere is a better choice.

A developer that is spending resources in one area, could be spending them in another area. This is my premise. The Last of Us: Remastered (which seems to be slightly more than a port) may have been relatively inexpensive in both resources and time and been a great way for a company to make a little bit of profit to use elsewhere. Likely, there are financial reasons that Naughty Dog deemed this remaster to be worth their salt and if that is a necessary element for them to remain in business and continue functioning the way they do, then I suppose it was a good choice.

If I were able to describe what I would prefer as a consumer however, I would rather the company take the same amount of funds it takes to remake this one year old game and hold an internal “game jam” like event. Let developers who probably have creative desires and ideas get a chance to get some of those ideas into a demo for a game. Smaller companies like Double Fine have this idea nailed down, and lots of ideas come out of it. On top of new ideas, it gives developers who are used to following a set path of remastering a game a chance to solve new challenges for themselves, increasing their future productivity and creation skills. Imagine a world where instead of The Last of Us: Remastered and Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt, we got four different $15 smaller games made by creative people with potentially new ideas. These smaller games could be made quickly with fewer resources and help bridge the gap we are currently seeing as we await 2015 where all of the coolest games are hiding.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with remasters as a whole. I have talked on the podcast about loving certain remasters. However, as I did state on the podcast, remasters gain a lot of their value in my eyes and either being nostalgic, or a modern way to play an old classic. I love playing good looking version of N64 games on my 3DS, and have even mentioned multiple times on the podcast that I would absolutely love a remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I have tweeted that I would love a remastered version of Wind Jammers and probably other games that have fallen out of recent memory. I just think remastering a game has a time and place, and I don’t think The Last of Us Remastered or Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt are utilizing the strengths of the medium as well as older games do.

The thing I struggle with in my own head, is that I don’t have a problem with straight ports even though the process for making them is probably extremely similar to remastering a last generation game. A developer who could be using resources on new projects would rather spend that making sure they have their game available on more platforms. I appreciate ports. I literally just bought the Dark Souls 2 PC port. Maybe part of my struggle is when a game that is a glorified port is advertised as a remaster. Maybe it is the timing of the port. The DS2 PC port came out 3 months after the regular DS2 street date, but they had been working on that version of the game the entire time. I don’t have problems with these most recent Vita ports of indy games that are coming out a couple of years after their original release either though.  

It is entirely probable and maybe even likely that I am judging the entire community of game remasters by the value they present to myself. As Drewby has mentioned, it does present another opportunity for someone who didn’t have previous access to a game, to possibly have a better version of that game. That is a good thing. I am a huge proponent of getting more people into the hobbies I find incredibly appealing. I don’t want people to misunderstand my position on THAT issue.

Either way, I can vote with my money on the games I want as can anyone else. I don’t wish these developers bad for making the decisions they do, and I am probably being an idealist with my utopian future of video game design, but I hope by explaining my position in a more reasonable manner that I have shed some light on my position. What do you guys think about this stuff?

Drewby’s Thoughts: To the Moon

Drewby here, and I’ve just finished one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s called, To the Moon. If you have heard of it, you might have heard of one of the best games of the last 10 years, and is now in my top 5 games of all time. This game is not a shooter, is not an action rpg, and is not a driving sim. Those are the types of games I play predominantly, but this is a simpler, humbler game developed by independent shop, Freebird Studios.  It’s short, probably max of 4 hours, so play it. I played in a couple different sessions, but I wish I had played through it all in one sitting. Alas, I can not change that now, but I recommend that if you can make it work enjoy and marvel at this game all at once. Nevertheless, I can’t recommend this game enough, and I hope to convince you to share in its beauty with me.

To The Moon does not have what you may call, exciting gameplay in the way typical games define exciting. There are no explosions, no airdropping behind enemy lines, no neck breaking car chases down the open road. It is simply about two scientists trying to understand a man’s past and make his wish come true. We know very little about this man at the beginning except that, he wants to go to the moon. The scientists then use a machine to access his memories, which leads them to better understand his wish. The gameplay used to accomplish this task consists mainly of walking around and interacting with people or objects with a button press. Sometimes, however, other small types of gameplay like simple puzzles are used to interact with the story. Short of one sequence that frustrated me enough to mention it that had frustrating controls, the different little gameplay elements are done well, and don’t overstay their welcome.

Some, of you, after reading about the gameplay may not be interested in it. That’s okay because that isn’t what this game is about. It is all about the story.  As you progress, you come across some sad and hard times. Some will leave you in shock, others just feeling sympathy for the patient. Some moments will be happy, and even joyous. In the end, this tale will leave you crying (I did cry) with mixed feelings about everything that has just happened. At the end when things culminated into the beautiful tale, combined with a heart wrenching soundtrack, I cried. This wasn’t just shedding a tear, this was me blowing my nose and taking breaths as one would usually when presented with stories as these. Thinking about the story and reflecting on my own life was enough to draw me out of my shell and push me to tears.

Speaking of the soundtrack. This game provides a stellar one. It has an excellent soundtrack to go along with the game, as well as listen to on it’s own. It’s stands tall among the best qualities of this game, and is worth checking out even if you don’t play through the story. The piano focused music compliments this game’s atmosphere so well, so so well.

I must share how I feel about this game. I love this game, and want people to play it. At the end of the year, during our game of the year events, we also have an “old” game of the year segment where we talked about older games that we have played that year and what ones were our favorites. This game tops all of my recommendations from last year.

Seriously, drop whatever you are doing and play this game.

*Seinfeld Voice* What’s the Deal with Piracy?

What’s the deal with piracy these days? Have we really forgot the concept of theft? Do we not understand the value of a purchased good or service? Comics, video games, movies, and music all suffer from this epidemic. From the ripping of a friend’s CD to direct torrenting of a full length, Blu-ray quality movie average, everyday people are stealing art left and right.

What could justify this act in our minds? We understand that if a “bad guy” robs a bank that he deserves to go to jail, but if you want your favorite band’s new album and don’t feel like paying for it, it’s is “okay” to just look up a .torrent and get it in minutes. Are we ignorant of the wrongdoing? I was. As a teenager I would rip my friend’s CDs all the time in the ever desperate struggle to maximize my musical thirst. What I did was clearly theft, no different than if I had walked into Wal-Mart, pulled Switchfoot’s Nothing is Sound off the shelf, and walked out the door with it. Even though I could have claimed ignorance at the time, I was still in the wrong. Do other people not know ripping your friend’s music is stealing? Is copying your buddy’s WC3 .ISO not theft? In a way, I think the ease of stealing something negates the crime in our minds. We may think “It can’t be stealing. Stealing involves Ocean’s 11 style coordination and deception and planning”, but in the year we live in, 2014 stealing can be a few clicks with no repercussions. Comics are stolen as easily as taking a few pictures on your smartphone.

Some people I know have justified their purloining of entire artists’ entire discography by saying they are “[Band Name’s] biggest fan”. Would you go to your best friend and tell them that you love him/her so much that you are just going to steal their product so as to leave them without a means of paying their own bills? This is the worst argument possible argument I could think of. If you are such a great fan, support them! Buy all of their albums and t-shirts, and DVDs, and drive to see them at any concert within a 4 hour radius to where you live. Give them as much money as possible, don’t steal from them!

The second worst “defence” I’ve heard someone use when justifying this crime was “Well, I bought a t-shirt and concert tickets last month when they were in town.” Is it cool to fill up on gas at the gas station and walk out with a five finger discounted Snickers and a Coke? Of course it isn’t. We pay for the services and goods that we want. That is how fathers and mothers can make money to feed their babies.; how teenagers can make enough money for college and parties. If you want to buy a McDouble, fries, and a large Dr. Pepper, you pay for all three.

“But here’s the thing, I can’t afford Skyrim. Publisher’s charge too much for video games.” This is an argument more often heard from the under 20 crowd. Here is the response to that: If you can’t afford something, then you can’t have it. I don’t want to spark a controversy on welfare or healthcare. I am speaking of the burglary of art. These are completely non-essential items. If you can not afford to buy Skyrim, unfortunately you can’t have Skyrim. Life can sometimes be rough. In the grand scheme of things, not having a video game or a movie really isn’t that bad when in your city there are people without food on the table?

When Ubisoft, Sony and many other companies announced and created their intense DRM schemes, so many people complained. These efforts ultimately failed because they made it harder for legitimate customers to purchase media, but also because the pirates were even better than the protection of the media. If you think about it though, Ubisoft’s actions had to have spurned from something. Ubisoft just wanted to make sure they received the money they had earned by making good software, but according to Joystiq, 93-95% of all of their PC players had pirated their games. When they tried to remedy the issue, they couldn’t because pirates still looted and honest consumers were punished. Content providers can’t fix this issue.

We can’t end this problem entirely, but I have hope that someone reading this will at least think twice before aiding in the very art they claim to be celebrating. Please understand that what you are doing is theft. If you were ignorant of your actions, you aren’t any longer. Go and steal no more.

The Stanley Parable ***SPOILERS ABOUND***

The Stanley Parable is a baffling “video game”. I use quotes because while it is a video game, it bucks traditional video game design. It presents itself as having a narrative, but rather than being a video game with a story, the game is a story about video games. Using the illusion of choice, while consciously, repeatedly decrying that choice in video games is a lie, The Stanley Parable takes shots at the current state of video gaming with pointed and interesting statements made by a narrator as a reaction to the player’s actions. The most obvious and frequently acknowledged jab that The Stanley Parable throws at video games is about the illusion of choice. There is an actual line from the narrator that points out that if you are “choosing” options programmed into a game months before, are you really actually freely choosing or are you simply following paths a developer has lined out beforehand? While this clearly draws into question the choices you are making in this game, it also brings to question the “freedom of choice” offered in many popular games as a selling point. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Walking Dead, etc. Many games make “player choice” seem like this lofty goal that games should aim for, but if choosing one predetermined linear route or another are your only options, what kind of choice is that? By following a different path, the game further complicates the problem of offering player’s choices in a video game when the narrator offers to give you a more open game. Asking if that is something you would enjoy. The game then places you in a copy of Mojang’s Minecraft. As the narrator builds you a home out of dirt, he then suggests that the house would be better if it were made out of diamond and sends you on a search into a cave to find that resource. This move serves as both a poke at the odd desire for “progression” in Minecraft and a transition for the narrator to suggest that a game of this type is “too open”, seemingly because in its complete openness, Minecraft really has no reason for player’s choosing anything. If there is no context for player choice, than that also makes player choice meaningless in a way. After the Minecraft section, The Stanley Parable places Stanley inside a replica of Valve’s Portal. The game points at Portal for being a linear game with no player choice also. Solving puzzles, even if you find a slightly different solution, results in a linear progression through a predetermined storyline. These interesting subjects (And many more I will leave up for you to decipher) are very worth thinking about, but the most poignant issue raised by The Stanley Parable is the way it weighs in on the “Are Video Games Art?” debate. There is a section of the game where you are places in a simple minigame which involves pushing a button to save a baby from running into a fire. The baby is constantly crawling towards the previously mentioned fire and pushing the button resets his position away from danger. Pressing the button makes a very obnoxious, loud noise and the baby, while crawling, constantly cries in a loud and annoying way. As a player, when I reached this section of the game, I simply let the baby crawl into the fire, and moved on, but the option exists in the game to sit there and play this section out for 4 hours. Yes, you read that correctly, you can sit there and press a single button to stop a baby from crawling into that fire for 4 HOURS and the game “rewards” you with easily in my opinion the most direct argument against games being art that I’ve ever experienced, but rather than deciphering the message for you, I’ll simply link to that section of the game and let you see if for yourself. Note that this game is being artistic by calling out games for not being artistic. Ironic. I think that there is so much more to say about this game, and possibly even different interpretations of the information that I viewed, but part of the fun of good art is the way that it can be dissected so intricately. Is The Stanley Parable a fun game? No. Is it a clever and compelling look at the current state of the video games? Definitely. At $15 it is an interesting proposition. If you want a game that breaks the standard conventions of video games while poking fun at them, you should definitely check it out.

Possible New Sleeping Dogs Sequel

Polygon is reporting that another game in the Sleeping Dogs universe is currently in development. Since Sleeping Dogs is my personal favorite open world game that I have ever played, this is obviously exciting news for me. The downside is, the project, called “Triad Wars”, could just as likely be a Free to Play bad third person shooter as a proper sequel to Sleeping Dogs. Here’s to hoping for the best!   Source: http://www.polygon.com/2013/10/7/4813036/sleeping-dogs-triad-wars-united-front-games